Wiscasset graduates round the stage to wait for their names to be called, crossing the Wiscasset Speedway finish line in the process. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Thirty-five Wiscasset Middle High School seniors crossed the finish line Thursday at the Wiscasset Speedway, celebrating the end of their senior year hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While COVID-19 is the reason the ceremony was held on the racetrack for the second consecutive year, the hardships the pandemic brought were all but absent in the evening’s speeches. Instead, class leaders and school representatives spoke of the growth they’ve experienced together, the fond memories they share and their hopes for the future.

“We’ve overcome so many trials and tribulations, both as a class and as individuals,” senior Ty DeLong said in his speech. “This past year especially has made this apparent. Through a worldwide pandemic we were able to band together, making the best of a bad situation.”

DeLong spoke of how a person isn’t defined by their hardships or failures, but how they learn and overcome them. He asked his fellow graduates to remember to “grow and better yourselves” each day, no matter what roadblocks appear.

“I look at my peers standing here with me and I see the faces of people who have grown,” said DeLong. “Having attended Wiscasset since pre-school, I’ve been able to watch most of them grow into the people you see now and grow alongside them. Every day we grow more and more into who we are and who we want to be. We’ll follow many different beliefs, paths and goals, but we all start from the same beginning. I hope wherever you are headed from here, that you continue to grow and better yourselves.”

Wiscasset Middle High School senior Ryan Potter, who adhered his prom king crown to his mortarboard, celebrates after being handed his diploma Thursday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Faculty Speaker Deborah Pooler told those in attendance how well the senior class handled the COVID-19 restrictions placed on them this academic year. She said the students’ responsibility and creativity with which they dealt with the pandemic speaks to the bright futures they all have.

“Sitting before you in this class of 2021 are future carpenters, homebuilders, engineers, doctors, nurses, business leaders, health workers, a United States Marine, scientists, an emergency medical technician, a zoologist, game wardens, an archaeologist, and one amazing artist,” said Pooler. “These are the careers these seniors hope to have one day, and after what I’ve seen from this class for the past year, I know they can accomplish these goals because I truly believe this class has learned to be resilient in a very difficult time.”

Chrissy Easter said though high school is full of fond memories, graduating feels like “a relief” and “the start of a new chapter for all of us” after the COVID-19 pandemic put them on edge for much of their junior and senior years.

Wiscasset Middle High School Salutatorian John Hodson addresses his classmates and their families at the Wiscasset Speedway Thursday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

“It was nerve-wracking knowing that at any point we could get shut down with no warning and do full online learning for two weeks if someone tested positive (for COVID-19),” said Easter.

Easter said that fear eased as the academic year went on, more Mainer got vaccinated, and COVID-19 cases began to diminish across the state.

Senior Ryan Potter said he didn’t mind having his graduation at the Wiscasset Speedway rather than in the school’s gymnasium where the ceremony is traditionally held.

“I’ve always heard the gym got hot during graduation, so it was nice to have it outside,” said Potter. “It’s nice to be here in person with our families rather than having them in cars like last year.”

This year, 200 chairs were arranged for families to watch the ceremony and each student could invite four guests. The racetrack bleachers were also available for additional seating.

Last year, families had to remain in their cars to watch the ceremony to keep people physically distanced from one another to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

While the Wiscasset Middle High School graduation ceremony was held at the Wiscasset Speedway for the second consecutive year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families were able to sit near the graduates on the racetrack rather than be required to remain in their cars like last year. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

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