BANGOR, Maine — Marching to the skirling sounds of the Anah Highlanders bagpipe band, 362 chilly Husson College students filed onto the baseball field at the Winkin Athletic Complex on Saturday morning to receive their college degrees. About 2,500 friends and family members filled the metal bleachers to take photographs and cheer on the graduates.
With the sky overcast, the temperature hovering below 50 degrees and a damp, raw-edged breeze gusting through the crowd, everyone was cold. The gowned graduates huddled on their folding chairs. In the stands, women in light spring dresses disappeared under borrowed winter parkas and hooded sweat shirts. Grandmothers and babies were wrapped in blankets, and the kilt-clad bagpipers showed ruddy kneecaps over the tops of their colorful socks.
For one local family in particular, though, the unseasonably cold weather formed the backdrop for a warm reunion. Husson graduate Ruth Kitchen of Brewer, who received her associate degree in business studies, was supported in the stands by her husband and her two adult daughters, including Army Spc. Jessica Baker, who took leave from her unit’ s current deployment in Iraq to join her family for the important event.
“It’ s hard to get the [leave] dates you want. I had to hustle to get the right dates, and then I got stuck in Kuwait for a while & but I made it,” Baker said, shivering in her thin camouflage Army combat uniform.
Baker, who flew in to Bangor on Friday, will have an 18-day break before reporting back to the unit’ s operating base, about an hour north of Baghdad, where daytime temperatures average about 115 degrees. She serves as an interrogator with the Army’ s 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky. Her 15-month deployment will end in December.
Ruth Kitchen, 45, is a full-time product manager on the overnight shift at Brewer Automotive Components it took her three years to complete her associate degree. She plans to keep working toward her bachelor’ s degree, starting with a schedule of summer classes that begin today.
Baker and her sister, 25-year-old Angela Parks of Winterport, said they were proud of their mother’ s determination.
“I’ ve seen the struggles she goes through,” Baker said, “balancing school with work and housework.”
“She’ s always put our needs before her own, and now & she’ s finally doing something for herself,” said Parks.
“She’ s hard-core — summer classes and everything,” said Ruth Kitchen’ s husband, Barry Kitchen, who is the deputy director of security services at Husson and also is taking classes toward master’ s degrees in business and criminal justice.
With a second commencement ceremony held in Portland on Sunday, a total of 594 Husson degrees were conferred over the weekend, including 445 undergraduate degrees, 147 graduate degrees and two honorary doctorates.
The commencement address in Bangor was delivered by Joseph F. Dooley, a 1995 Husson graduate and former president of Duracell. Also speaking was 2008 class president Moremil Anais Clemente Del Luca of Caracas, Venezuela.
The speaker at the Portland graduation exercises was Glenn Cummings, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.