Surrounded by a sea of University of New England graduates lining up for commencement Saturday, Kerri Szolusha made last-minute adjustments to her mortarboard, decorated with daisies against an aqua green background.

“It’s so outrageously decorated,” said Szolusha, of Woodstock, Connecticut, a neuroscience major with a minor in art therapy.

Szolusha was among 1,449 graduates – about half of whom sported decorated mortarboards – who received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, where the university’s 180th commencement ceremony took place.

A couple of miles away, 60 graduates of Husson University received diplomas at the school’s southern Maine commencement at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. Husson’s commencement in Bangor was held last Sunday.

University of New England graduates said decorating their mortarboards helped personalize the ceremony at the arena, where graduates, faculty, families and friends filled up most of the 9,500 seats.

David Hague of Middletown, New Jersey, wore a mortarboard with a plastic snowy owl and a snow leopard on top.

“These are my two favorite animals,” said Hague, an environmental studies major who is headed for an internship on the Hudson River with the National Park Service.

Brittney Painter of Charlottesville, Virginia, about to receive a master of science in nurse anesthesia, said she couldn’t pass up making a reference to her field of study on her mortarboard, which read, “Keep calm & bolus the Propofol,” which refers to a dose of a common surgical anesthetic.

Painter has landed a job at Maine Medical Center.

Kiera Latham, a biology major from Byfield, Massachusetts, put a quote from the “The Lord of the Rings” on her mortarboard.

“Little by little, one travels far. I am a really big fan of the Lord of the Rings,” said Latham, who is headed to Boston University for a master’s in public health.

UNE President Danielle Ripich told students to expand their aspirations and connect to their surroundings.

“Find a way to merge your personal expertise and ambition with the capacity you possess to brighten the lives of others,” Ripich said.

UNE gave honorary degrees to Michael McCarthy, who has worked as principal of King Middle School in Portland for 27 years and twice received the Maine Principal of the Year award, and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries of Northern New England.

Roosevelt, the granddaughter of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, was also the commencement speaker. She told graduates the world needs them.

“This world depends on each of us to keep thinking about, caring about and considering the implications that our decisions and actions have on our economy, our environment and our neighbors,” Roosevelt said.

The Husson graduation featured Robert Montgomery-Rice, president and chief executive officer of Bangor Savings Bank.


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