F. LEE BAILEY speaks at Saturday’s Southern Maine Community College graduation ceremony in South Portland, at which the first-ever graduates of the SMCC Brunswick Landing campus received diplomas.

F. LEE BAILEY speaks at Saturday’s Southern Maine Community College graduation ceremony in South Portland, at which the first-ever graduates of the SMCC Brunswick Landing campus received diplomas.

Southern Maine Community College confered diplomas on the largest graduating class in its 67-year history Saturday, including the first 33 students to enroll at its Mid-coast Campus in Brunswick, which opened in 2011.

Some 1,074 students received degrees from the college Saturday, hailing from 15 Maine counties, 17 states and eight countries.

One of the graduates, Cynthia Dalton, a nursing student from Bowdoinham who was the college’s student of the year, said the initial days at the Brunswick Landing campus were a little rocky.

“I guess the temperature of the buildings is regulated remotely, from Maryland,” she said, “so the first exam I remember we were all wrapped up in blankets.”

Eventually, facilities and other issues were worked out, “and now there’s more classes going on and vendors are there so you can get food,” Dalton said. “So it’s really coming along.”

Dalton, a unit secretary and certified nurse’s assistant at Mid Coast Hospital, earned a $1,000 John H. Lapoint Jr. Leadership Award during the school year, selected by faculty and staff for her work helping manage other nursing students’ clinical rotations at local hospitals.

She also earned awards at graduation for academic and clinical excellence.

Dalton, 28, said she looked at nursing programs in Augusta and elswehere, and faced a three-year waiting list at many schools.

While obtaining prerequisites online and at SMCC’s center in Bath, she called campus administrators at Brunswick Landing and started “bugging them a lot” to get into the nursing school.

When someone dropped off the waiting list, she was plugged in and became one of the first groups of students taking classes at the SMCC campus in Brunswick.

The Brunswick campus was her choice because of “the time” it takes to get there from her home in Bowdoinham, “flexibility” in earning credits, and the relatively low cost of the program, she said.

“They’ve definitely been taking into consideration of our wants and needs over there,” she said.

The oldest SMCC graduate Saturday was 67; the youngest was 19, with an average age of 29.

Forty were veterans, including Tom Sharp, who spent 26 years in the military before enrolling as a disabled veteran to earn an associate’s degree in business administration with the help of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

“It is kind of a funny feeling. Thirty-three years later and after 26 years in the military, my mother will be watching me graduate this Saturday,” Sharp said in a news release issued by the college.

F. Lee Bailey, a noted attorney who now resides in Maine, told graduates that, “at nearly 80 years old, I am ready to take on anyone who comes at me, including Darth Vader,” and urged those in attendance to follow their dreams aggressively.

“Commencement is a special day for us all, a day of rewards for much hard work on the part of our students, faculty and staff,” SMCC President Ron Cantor said. “The class of 2013 truly has distinguished itself and serves as an example that no matter where you have been, when you start here you can go anywhere.”

Of the 1,074 graduating students, 830 had completed their degrees and 260 were “on track to be completed,” according to the school.

The 2013 graduating class has distinguished itself academically with an average GPA of 3.17, with 42 graduates earning a 3.95 or higher and 162 graduates who participated in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

The Brunswick Landing campus of SMCC offers the nursing program, classes in advanced composites manufacturing, and The Maine Fire Service Institute.

“We’re really focusing on programming that will help Brunswick Landing and all of Mid-coast, which has been underserved by education, particularly higher education,” said James Whitten, dean of the Mid-coast campus. “We are doing everything we can to give people the tools they need to have success in this economy. I think that’s one of the hooks that the college provides is not only access, but the skills that the workforce is asking for.”

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