Members of the UMaine class of 2023 march from the field house to the Alfond Arena during Saturday's commencement. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

This year’s graduating class at the University of Maine is heading out into a world very different from the one in which they started as freshmen. That sentiment was a running theme in speeches during commencement Saturday at Alfond Arena.

“You are a pandemic class,” UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said. “Your academic journey was disrupted more than anyone could have imagined but you remained connected and here you are today.”

The Class of 2023 was on campus for just a semester before the COVID-19 global pandemic shut schools and businesses down across the state in early 2020. Soon after the university told them classes would be offered remotely.

During their four years students attended courses through computer screens for two years.

“The world needs your talents and skills now to see us through whatever is coming next,” Mundy said. “You will make history as you enter a new kind of workplace with hybrid models, [artificial intelligence] and things we can’t imagine now.”

Among Saturday’s 1,660 graduates was education major Ben Campbell. When he walked across the stage to accept his diploma, he had an eye to the future, but his UMaine roots are firmly in the past.

Campbell is the latest member of his family to graduate from the university. It’s a tradition that goes back six generations to his great-great-great grandfather Edwin Haskall, a member of the first graduating class in 1872.

Back then it was the Maine State College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts.

Campbell is a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity on campus and throughout the pandemic’s lockdown, he lived at the fraternity house.

He said the experience gave him an unique opportunity to learn about people and communities.

“It gave me time to really see people work in different ways,” Campbell said. “It kind of put me in the mindset of, ‘Yeah, every interaction that I have is important in some way or another.’”

It’s that kind of experience that will make these new graduates prepared to tackle global issues like climate change, international crisis, disinformation campaigns from countries unfriendly to the US and the turmoil of politics in this country, said commencement speaker Anne Hall, retired US ambassador and member of the UMaine class of 1981.

“You have been given a gift many people in the world can only dream of,” Hall said. “You have been given the gift of learning.”

The graduates are entering a world that is more complex and connected through technology than at any other time in history, she said.

“The world you are inheriting will throw down a lot of challenges and we will need all of you to meet those challenges,” Hall said. “You will need to use that gift of learning you were given to separate fact from fiction in this new world where you will need to think critically and discern what is going on.”

The former diplomat said she has every confidence the graduates are up for the task.

“You are now carrying the baton for the next leg,” she said. “You are picking up where we left off and I know things are going to be in great hands.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.