After being told how bright their futures can be, members of the Gray-New Gloucester High School class of 2016 donned sunglasses as they left their graduation ceremony Saturday evening.

The 109 graduates sitting in the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland had just been filled with advice to follow their dreams, take charge of their future and to seize opportunities for laughter by administrators and staff.

Clara Phillips, class president, found wisdom in literature, in Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” a story about a young dreamer who leaves his home to seek a fortune.

For Phillips, the book “reflects the journeys of the people onstage with me today,” she said. “Most of us have been living here our whole lives. We’re comfortable, we’re happy (I know I am) but it’s important to remember there’s a whole world out there at our fingertips.”

As the graduates enter the world beyond high school, “we have the opportunity to take our lives and mold them into what we dream about and what we want for this world,” Phillips said. “The only thing holding us back is ourselves.”

Other student speakers found inspiration and advice from teammates and a grandmother.

As a distance runner, salutatorian Samantha Shampine said she and her teammates have developed a long list of excuses for getting out of running. They include everything from “saw a wolf” to “cold joints,” she said.

The excuse list, Shampine said, is an exercise in “recognizing excuses and dismissing them before they stop us from achieving our best.

“I’m not saying choosing the path of a no-excuse lifestyle is easy,” Shampine said, “It’s certainly a black-diamond trail. What I’m suggesting is the right attitude can bring you anywhere you want to go, and can also change the destination.”

For valedictorian Olivia Giles, the best life advice for achieving success was found in watching her grandmother.

Giles’ 91-year-old grandmother, who she described as “a little old lady barely clearing 4 feet 9 inches, or 4 feet 11 inches if you count the perm,” embodies what it means to be successful despite facing a challenging life, Giles said.

Watching her grandmother accept the use of a wheelchair when doing errands taught the student how to “know your limits but dream big,” Giles said.

As Gray-New Gloucester graduates said goodbye to each other, they also bid adieu to Superintendent Bruce Beasley, who is leaving the district to take a position at School Administrative Unit 7 in New Hampshire. 

Beasley, who has worked in the district for 17 years, told the graduates a story of how he learned “to believe in himself when others did not,” when he was cut from the basketball team as a seventh-grader and practiced alone to ensure a spot the following year.

Future challenges “are going to require you to believe in yourself,” Beasley told graduates. “You’re going to have to be bold. You never know how far you can go if you don’t push the outer limits of your comfort zone.”

School Administrative District 15 has named Dr. Craig King as the finalist for its new superintendent, according to a press release from School Board Chairwoman Tina Martell. King visited the schools this week to meet with students, staff and community members. 

King, a native of Fort Kent and graduate of its University of Maine school, is the current superintendent of Western Foothills Regional School Unit 10 in Dixfield. King was chosen from 16 applicants. 

King has been a Peace Corps Volunteer, teacher and principal during his career, according to the press release.  He holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and a doctorate of educational leadership from the University of Southern Mississippi. Hecompleted his superintendent’s licensure program at the University of Maine.

Superintendent Bruce Beasley, an administrator in the district for 17 years, is resigning at Gray New Gloucester to take a position at a New Hampshire school for “a new challenge in an area that my wife and I enjoy,” he said in an email. 

Beasley said the strengths of the Gray New Gloucester school district include “the outstanding staff, the International Baccalaureate program at the high school and two communities that value education.” 

Gray New Gloucester graduates leave the ceremony to “You Can Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. 

Gray New Gloucester Class President Clara Phillips crosses the stage to receive her diploma. “The only thing holding us back is ourselves,” she said to her fellow graduates in her address.