WATERVILLE – Former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell Jr. was honored Thursday night at the Alfond Youth Center for his work as a senator, federal judge, peace maker and supporter of education.

Mitchell flew all night from the Middle East to be in his hometown, where everyone from Gov. John Baldacci to Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott stood to pay tribute to him.

Mitchell, who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, is working to do the same as President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East.

More than 400 people turned out for the tribute. Mitchell and his family — wife Heather, daughters Andrea and Claire, son Andrew and grandson Ian — sat with Baldacci and his wife, Karen.

As a child, Mitchell was a longtime member of the Waterville Boys Club, which eventually moved with the YMCA to the Alfond Center.

The tribute included the dedication of the Alfond Center’s triple gymnasiums as the George J. Mitchell Auditorium, but the evening focused heavily on education.

The George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program, which Mitchell developed after he left the Senate, has given more than $8 million to nearly 1,800 students.

Mitchell said the program means more to him than anything in his life outside of his family.

“It grew in my mind, the notion that since I was in a position to do something about it, I had to do something about it,” he said of helping students in need go to college.

He urged others to help young people get an education so they can pursue their dreams.

Several recipients of Mitchell scholarships stood to thank him and tell him their stories.

In an emotional address, Jessica Boyle, a Colby College student and a scholarship recipient, said that when she graduated from high school, there was nobody there applauding her for her success. Boyle was homeless and lived in a shelter. She said she later found caring people at the Mitchell Institute.

“Thank you, Sen. Mitchell, for creating the institute and thank you for giving me a chance,” she said.

At the end of the evening, everyone stood to sing “Happy Birthday” to Mitchell, who will turn 77 on Aug. 20.


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