Wearing a traditional cap and gown and waiting to march into the downtown Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday morning, Evanna Alcorn, 24, of Biddeford was among many graduates who took nontraditional routes to get their University of Southern Maine degrees.

“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Alcorn said. “I have a 4-year-old son.” She didn’t start college immediately after high school, and juggled classes, studying, and caring for her son while she was there.

“I bounced back and forth a little bit, trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said. After her son was born, she decided to go into nursing. “Here I am,” Alcorn said with a smile.

This year’s college graduates pursued degrees during the pandemic, which at times meant having classes called off, wearing masks, taking online lessons, and other hardships.

“You earned your degree under circumstances that were anything but ordinary,” USM President Jacqueline Edmondson told them at the school’s 143rd commencement. “You took classes from your bedrooms, your kitchens, your cars, your classrooms, and other places. You accomplished much while also fielding tremendous challenges. And here you are.”

Saturday was a big day for higher education in Maine.


Alcorn was among an estimated 1,000 graduates who marched at Cross Arena, plus several hundred more who didn’t march but are among USM’s Class of 2023.

Omar Daud of Portland gestures to family and friends after receiving his degree Saturday during the University of Southern Maine’s graduation Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena. Daud studied health sciences at the college of science, technology, and health. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In Orono at the University of Maine, 1,660 undergraduates were expected to graduate before a crowd of 10,000. On Friday, 424 received advanced degrees at UMaine, including 37 doctoral degrees. Graduations were also held Saturday at the University of Maine at Augusta, UMaine Farmington, UMaine Fort Kent, and UMaine Presque Isle.

Other speakers at USM’s ceremony included Gov. Janet Mills, 2023 student speaker Nadine Bravo and New York Times staff writer Neil Genzlinger, this year’s recipient of the USM Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.

Mills said she wished each graduate “a fulfilled career, a happy and productive life. And wherever you go, I say on behalf of the 1.3 million people of Maine, good fortunes, best wishes, and congratulations. And always know we will always welcome you home.”

Genzlinger said his journalism career wasn’t glamorous – he didn’t write from a war zone or win a Pulitzer. He writes obituaries for the New York Times and joked that he gets few complaints from the people he writes about. For years, he was an off-Broadway theater critic – “all that means is I got to see about 800 plays for free from the best seat in the house,” he said.

Taking a serious tone, Genzlinger thanked USM for the award, and for acknowledging that a journalism career is still worthwhile and valuable to the country.


He also shared what he called the biggest mistake he’s ever made in his career.

In 1977, he was hired by the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. Then-editor Bob Drake assigned Genzlinger to cover all of Franklin County from the bureau office in Farmington.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. He didn’t know how the board of selectmen or school board worked. He didn’t know the difference between the Maine State Police and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

His working conditions were primitive.

Genzlinger wrote his stories “on a typewriter,” he said, to audience laughter. Three months after he was hired, he was still flailing at the job and about to write one of his biggest stories to date.

Tiffany Dunn pays tribute to an anonymous donor from whom she received a heart transplant in 2021 during the University of Southern Maine graduation Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena. Dunn earned a master’s degree in social work. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The town was planning the original Chester Greenwood Day, honoring a man who 100 years before hit it big when he invented earmuffs. Before the big day, Genzlinger wrote an advance story about the impending celebration.


His story ended up on page one, his first to do so. Because of the unusual December celebration, his story was picked up by the Associated Press and reached newspaper readers across the country. But the story contained a typo.

He meant to write the words “ear contest,” instead he wrote “car contest.”

He didn’t realize then that he should have filed a correction. And for 46 years, “I’ve carried the burden of that mistake,” he said to laughter. In his defense, he said, there isn’t much space between the letters “c” and “e” on a typewriter keyboard.

The point of the story, he said, is that graduates might think that the work of learning and studying is over. But after graduation, he said, the safety nets are gone. Graduates are going to make mistakes.

“Get ready to be vigilant about yourself,” Genzlinger said. “Get ready to be your own best proofreader, your own best fact-checker. Get ready to be your own best editor.”

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