Graduates of the fire science program stood out Sunday at Southern Maine Community College’s 67th graduation ceremony.

Instead of the black mortarboards worn by other graduates, they sported neon-yellow firefighter helmets as they lined up for the procession into the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.

“I am really close with all these people,” said Russ Parker, 21, of Aurora, Colorado, who was surrounded by his fire science classmates.

The 32 fire science students were among more than 1,000 people receiving associate degrees from Maine’s largest and oldest community college, whose flagship campus in South Portland overlooks Casco Bay. This year’s crop of graduates included students from all 16 Maine counties, 12 other states and 11 foreign countries.

In all, 1,045 degrees and certificates were awarded to 1,024 students.

SMCC President Ron Cantor told students they were destined for success. Charles Gregory, president of the faculty senate, gave students one final homework assignment: to thank the family and friends who helped them along the way.

“And yes, this will be on the test,” he said.

Commencement speaker Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food-Bank, noted that many SMCC graduates are nontraditional students who had to overcome barriers to their own academic success.

“With your achievement today, you are better prepared to knock down barriers in the future for others,” she said.

Several of the graduates expressed optimism about their future.

Ben Blais, 24, who received an associate degree in applied science in the heating, air conditioning, refrigeration and plumbing program, said he had landed a job at a Saco heating and plumbing business.

“This gave me a good start,” Blais said of his college experience.

Meredith Flanders, 28, one of the few females among 28 graduates in the automotive technology program, said her degree helped her land a job at a Waterville automotive service center.

Michelle Hayes, 51, of Cumberland said she earned her associate degree in health science as a challenge to her daughter, who said when she was in middle school that she wasn’t interested in college.

“I told her, ‘If I can do it, so can you.’ Now her daughter is headed to the registered nursing program at SMCC, Hayes said.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

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