Laura Brown hands out flowers and hugs during the special thanks and parent appreciation Saturday at the Richmond High School graduation. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

RICHMOND — High school has taught Laura Brown a few things, and not just English, history and math.

“Honestly, a thing that I have learned the most from all of this would be adapting — adapting and making the best of everything that has come our way,” Brown said. “Because with the bads, there’s been the goods. It’s learning to adapt and make the good out of what appeared to be the bad.”

On Saturday, Brown, 18, joined her 29 Richmond High School classmates in the school’s gymnasium to celebrate their graduation.

The ceremony marked the final act of her time in high school, a time shaped by a global pandemic that upended daily life for everyone.

But other events have marked their time in school, as class valedictorian Alyssa Letendre described, to thunderous applause, in her commencement address to a packed gymnasium.

Nearly two weeks ago, a gunman fatally shot 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and wounded 17.


Instead of talking about growing up, Letendre opted to talk about gun violence, an issue that she said hurts the country as a whole.

“The need to have a gun should not matter more than a child or anyone’s life,” Letendre said.

In the wake of the numerous mass shootings at schools and elsewhere in the past two decades, Letendre said the United States has been left with traumatized children and grieving parents and families.

“Our country, our leaders and our representatives continue to deflect around the issue, they continue not to hear the cries and pleas over their ‘thoughts and prayers,’” she said. “The last 18 years of my life, all I have heard is that they are heartbroken, outraged and sickened but if that were really true the Uvalde shooting, the Buffalo shooting, and countless more would have never existed.”

As she seeks to become an educator and a mother, Letendre knows she is putting herself and her children at risk as long as mass shootings continue. That, she said, is the harsh reality today in America.

“Gun violence will continue to rise in this country unless we do something about it, she said. “We must continue to pursue change and action altogether to protect our people and overall better our country for the children and for each other.”


Away from the excitement of graduation, Brown reflected about her own experience over the last four years.

“I only had, like, one normal year of high school, and that was my freshman year,” she said. “Then COVID hit my sophomore year, and then up until a few months ago, everything was affected by that.”

Brown said she wishes she had been able to have everyday high school experiences, seeing friends every day, going to pep rallies and having parents and friends come watch her soccer games.

Alyssa Letendre, Richmond High School valedictorian, urged classmates to take action against gun violence during her graduation speech Saturday. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

“What even is normal anymore?” she said.

She’s learned what it’s like to be away from friends and school activities and with her family all day, but she also learned to enjoy the moments that she otherwise might have hated, like going to math class, and attending a normal, full day of classes.

“That’s not something I’ll ever have again,” she said.


While this year the school schedule returned to normal, Brown spent only about an hour and 25 minutes there every day. She went to the certified nursing assistant program at the Capital Area Technical Center.

While she loved that program, she wished she had spent more time at the high school, in the community of friends that she has known all her life, the community that brought her a measure of comfort during uncertain times.

“We have this thing called ‘Richmond Friends and Family,'” she said, referring to the town’s Facebook community page.

When the pandemic started, a member posted regularly, asking people how they were and whether they needed anything. Brown said she would read these posts, people talking about what was going on and what they were doing.

“It was nice to have a community like that,” she said. “They’re there for you if you need them.”

In the fall, Brown will head to Thomas College in Waterville to pursue the accelerated 3-Plus-1 program, in which she’ll earn a bachelor’s degree in business in three years and complete her master’s degree in the fourth year.

Until then, she’ll continue working at Buffalo Wild Wings in Topsham and will look for a CNA job, and she’s got some travel planned to Florida and Texas this summer.

And before all of that, she and her friends will celebrate with dinner at the Kumi Steakhouse in Augusta before heading off to the University of Farmington for an evening of entertainment and fun for Project Graduation.

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