Augusta University will graduate 551 on Saturday in 56th annual commencement exercises

AUGUSTA — Allison Winship compared her time at the University of Maine at Augusta to the old oak tree that grew in the front yard of her childhood home in Houlton.

Her story is based on a metaphor her grandfather first told her, and which she now shared with UMA classmates during the 56th day of school.e Initial exercises on Saturday morning. Its branches, she said, grew as they took the plunge to study at university.

As she worked toward her Bachelor of Science degree in veterinary technology, her branches grew: when she moved from Houlton to study at UMA’s Bangor Campus, when her father died, and when she made friends in a “new, strange city ‘. Its branches continued to grow.

“UMA challenged my own roots, it challenged where I belonged, who I was and my upbringing,” Winship said. “Do I have what it takes?”

Winship was chosen from 551 classmates as a student speaker and received the Kathleen Dexter Distinguished Student Award.

The third largest university in the University of Maine System, family, friends and graduates filled the entire Augusta Civic Center.

Grace Hills, left, carries the mace Saturday as she leads University of Maine at Augusta President Jenifer Cushman, center, and the rest of the faculty to the commencement ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

During her first commencement ceremony as university president, Jenifer Cushman said the graduating class of 2024, which includes two campuses and eight regional centers, represents more than 200 towns and cities in Maine and has residents from 29 other states across the country.

The university has practiced distance learning, or online education, for decades, long before the pandemic, and can reach students in areas of the state and country that may not have access to the Augusta or Bangor campuses.

Josh Allen, 25, is from Falmouth and, like other students in the aviation program, chose it because it is close to home and he did not have to travel across the country for a similar program elsewhere.

Alyssa Hale, left, and Benjamin Lagasse carry matching “Star Wars”-themed messages on their mortar boards before the University of Maine at Augusta commencement ceremony begins Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. The couple are big fans of the film franchise and have plans to get married later this summer. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Allen had already earned a college degree in business administration and didn’t know whether he wanted to become an airplane mechanic or fly one, but he decided to fly based on his father’s advice.

“My dad asked me, ‘Would I rather be under the plane or on the plane?’” Allen said.

Cushman said in her opening remarks that three in five, or 70% of Saturday’s graduates, are non-traditional college students over the age of 25 and that 64% of graduates are the first in their families to attend college.

Grace Leavitt, president of the Maine Education Association and the chosen commencement speaker, told the graduating students to value their education.

She left them with a classic quote from Mahatma Gandhi, saying she couldn’t think of a better way to address a group of recent college graduates: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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