Mt. Ararat High School graduates arrive by bus to the graduation ceremony held at Watson Arena in Brunswick. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

Mt. Ararat High School graduate Riley Robertson embraces fellow graduate Nathan Taylor Sunday. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — “When I sat down to write this speech this past Monday … I realized I had no idea what I wanted to say,” said Mt. Ararat High School valedictorian Tyler Bernier at graduation Sunday at Bowdoin College. “I realized I could talk about coming out and being gay, and what it’s like to be a part of this community in today’s society.” 

“Not that it was much of a surprise. I mean, when you think about the stereotype that all of the best, most attractive, smartest, most athletic and all-around amazing guys are gay. I think we all saw it coming,” he said.

Bernier’s candid, humorous speech highlighted a milestone day Sunday for 152 Mt. Ararat High School graduates. 

“Jokes aside, my coming out really wasn’t that big of a deal,” Bernier said, because classmates and family were instantly accepting.

But for three years of high school leading up to his revelation, “I didn’t really feel like me,” Bernier said. “I felt like I was holding something back, not only from the people around me, but also from myself.”

Coming out changed all that and he became more open, present and happy.

“The changes I noticed weren’t just in myself, but also in the people around me,” he said. “I noticed they also smiled more when in my presence, they were happier to see me and all around, my exhale of pent-up gayness seemed to allow them to exhale as well.”

He told classmates it has been an honor to take this journey with them.

“I hope all of you find success and happiness in life, and I hope you all stay true to yourselves, for that is the single most important thing you can do in this life,” he said.

In his speech, graduate Griffin Downs advised fellow graduates to use their knowledge and independence to make choices for themselves.

“With so many difficult decisions constantly pelting us as growing adults, it’s hard to wrap our heads around each one separately,” he said. “Whether we are trying to decide what to do after high school, where to go to college, what major to pursue or where to get a job, it can be easier to listen to those around us and follow what they believe is best for us.”

Now graduates are at the end of a journey, ready to branch out on different paths.

“We have the opportunity to apply ourselves to the world in a way we see fit,” Downs said. “So, I ask my class of 2019, take the route of life that you choose.”

Mt. Ararat High School graduates march into Watson Arena Sunday where graduation was held. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

With high school complete, graduate Riley Robertson said Sunday she’d felt jitters, goosebumps and butterflies.

“It’s every emotion that you can feel, I felt it today,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

Sunday’s graduation didn’t feel real until she walked into the arena and saw hundreds of people seated, watching.

“It all hit at once, and it was surreal,” she said.

“It made me very emotional,” said Nathan Taylor. “To get there and say, ‘Wow, this is really happening. We’ve been looking forward to this for so many years.’”

Since starting elementary school in Bowdoinham so many years ago, finding himself finished with high school Sunday felt crazy, Taylor said.

He’s headed west to Brigham Young University in Idaho. He hasn’t decided on a major but wants to follow a course related to math or computer.

Robertson will attend the University of Tampa in Florida, where she will study political law with a track in pre-law and a concentration in government. She hopes to go on to law school.

“It’s just the beginning steps so I can go have a career,” she said. “I’m super excited.”

She credits her high school teachers with helping her prepare for the next step in life.

“If I’m lucky enough to find teachers like I found here, I think I will be able to succeed, but they will be hard to match,” she said.

Graduation Sunday for her signified all the hard work she’s put in and all the perseverance over the past 12 years.

“It means everything to be surrounded by all these people I love and I know love me,” she added. “It’s incredible.”

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