New graduates exit the University of Maine at Fort Kent's Sport Center, where they were awarded their degrees on Saturday. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine — University of Maine at Fort Kent graduated just over 200 students on Saturday at the school’s 141st commencement with the bulk of them from the nursing program.

Kalusha Kotes originally found his way to Fort Kent from Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 2014 when he accepted an offer to play on the Bengal men’s soccer team, which he helped lead to two USCAA National Championships. Since then, Kotes has earned two bachelor’s degrees from UMaine at Fort Kent, a business degree in 2017 and a nursing degree with honors on Saturday. 

Kotes has worked as a nursing assistant in the community for many years, even while obtaining his business degree, and has been head coach of the Fort Kent Community High School Warrior boys soccer team since 2018. 

Kotes said it was during the pandemic that he realized the importance of the call for nurses. 

“It’s a very necessary and driven field,” Kotes said. “I grew to love it and realized that’s what I wanted to do.” 

Once he passes his nursing boards, Kotes said he plans to put his degree to use as a nurse at the local hospital. 

Speakers at the graduation ceremony included University of Maine System trustee and Fort Kent resident Kelly Martin who demonstrated her appreciation for the students who come from all over the world to attend the university, where they also work and volunteer in the community. 

“Thank you for being a part of the fabric of this community, a community known for its ability to come together and make things happen. You have embraced this can-do spirit and you have helped make this community be a better place to live,” she said. 

Abstract artist Don Voisine received an honorary doctoral degree at Saturday’s ceremony.

Voisine told the students that as a child he would pick potatoes with his family during the harvest. He joked that he hoped this honorary degree would allow him to retire his potato picking days, but said there is much to be gained from that experience. 

“To succeed at anything takes a lot of hard work, persistence,and perseverance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one can do it alone,” Voisine said. 

Peter Sirois was presented with a distinguished service award. The former Northern Maine Medical Center CEO has served on the Fort Kent university’s nursing advisory council and helped support funding for the nursing program.  

The graduating class awarded Maisie Plourde as outstanding faculty member and Leslie Kelly as outstanding staff member. 

Rep. Austin Theriault encouraged the graduates to face challenges with “courage, compassion and an unwavering commitment to excellence.” 

“You may encounter setbacks, disappointments, and failures, but these are all part of the learning process,” Theriault said. “Embrace them, learn from them, and use them to fuel your drive and determination to succeed as you did to get here today.”