The University of Maine at Fort Kent Class of 2022 celebrates graduation on Saturday, May 7. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine – Having survived what the last two years have thrown at them, the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s 2022 graduates have extraordinary futures ahead, the campus president told them.

UMFK President and Provost Dr. Deb Hedeen expressed exceptional pride in the graduating students gathered before her during Saturday’s commencement at the UMFK Sport Center.

The students faced unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered their college experience, Hedeen said.

“A typical day at UMFK and university across the nation for more than two years has included wearing face masks, social distancing, regular testing for Covid and spending at least portions of a day in a Zoom session,” Hedeen said. “These outstanding students have maintained a positive attitude and performed in extraordinary ways in order to accomplish their goals.”

Class of 2022 graduate and student commencement speaker Taylor Brown said the pandemic has been one of the most challenging life events she and most of her classmates have ever experienced.

“We have all lived through so much these past four years, and those four years have felt very long for us students,” Brown said.

Despite an ever changing learning environment throughout their studies at UMFK due to the pandemic, Brown said her class learned a very valuable lesson through it all.

“When things get tough, that’s the time to keep pushing forward, not the time to start giving up,” Brown said.

University of Maine at Fort Kent Class of 2022 graduate Troy O’Neal Williams II (center) along with his parents, Troy Williams Sr. (left) and Kimberly Williams. Credit: Jessica Potila | St. John Valley Times

Among those in the class who pushed through the difficult times to graduate from UMFK on Saturday is Troy O’Neal Williams II, who earned a bachelor’s degree in rural public safety administration.

Williams’ father, Troy Williams Sr., was so overtaken with emotion when his son received his diploma on Saturday that he rushed the floor of the Sport Center to embrace his son.

The achievement was especially meaningful to the Williams family, Troy Williams Sr. explained.

“He was only the third person in our family to ever graduate from college. I was the first, and this is out of everyone, out of thousands of people ever,” Troy Williams Sr. said.

Troy Williams II’s sister Janessa Williams traveled from Arizona to watch her brother receive his diploma at the commencement ceremony.

“Out of all our siblings he’s the one to complete college. I wouldn’t have missed it,” Janessa Williams said.

Troy Williams II said whenever things became difficult during his college years, he remained mindful of his goal to graduate from college, and could not have done so without the support of his parents, including mother Kimberly Williams, who also attended the graduation ceremony.

Williams II transferred to UMFK from a community college in Oregon two years ago when Coach Tom Bird recruited him to play basketball for the Bengals.

The new graduate hopes to play professional basketball overseas, and later follow in his father’s footsteps to find work at a juvenile correctional facility.

“If we can survive this unexpected pandemic with new learning conditions and still be here today receiving our diplomas, we can do anything,” Brown said.

“We can get our dream jobs. We can do what we want to do. We can do great things.”