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Rear Adm. Jerry Paul is 15th president of Maine Maritime Academy. He is a 1989 graduate of the academy and later served in local, state and federal government, including in the Florida Legislature and as the principal deputy administrator of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration.

Recently, Maine Maritime Academy, what we call “Maine’s leadership college,” held commencement ceremonies for 223 students. It was special not just because it was the college’s 80th graduation, but also because of the unique role this academy plays in Maine and in the world.

These graduates received degrees in engineering, science, management and transportation. It was a fantastic day for the students, their families, Maine Maritime’s faculty and staff. It was spectacular for Maine to be one of the few states chosen by Congress to host a maritime academy, which is critical to the maritime interests of the United States, including its national security.

We were honored to have U.S. Sen. Susan Collins deliver the commencement address at the ceremony. Collins has long supported this institution, along with U.S. Sen. Angus King and our entire congressional delegation. She has been a constant advocate for Maine Maritime’s students and graduates. This past December, she secured funding for the academy’s development of vessel digitization and energy efficiency technologies. Vessel digitization has been compared to a smart home on a ship. The $2.5 million allows us to provide students access to advanced technology that better prepares students for successful careers. These students will be serving our country worldwide, and because of the support by our congressional delegation, they’re better prepared to do so.

In Collins’ address to the graduating class of 2023, she said, “This small campus has a worldwide impact.” She is correct. Our campus is located in Castine. The town dock hosts the training ship State of Maine, which serves as a training platform for our students who cross oceans and travel to foreign ports worldwide in an unprecedented adventure combined with their four-year college education.

The State of Maine is currently out on its latest 60-day voyage with 212 students and almost two dozen members of our faculty and staff. They’ll stop at the Philadelphia Shipyard to participate in a historic keel laying ceremony commemorating the start of construction on a new $300 million training ship that will soon call Castine its home port. Collins sponsored the current training ship State of Maine back in 1997. She has been a leader in the effort to procure federal funding for the new vessel.

Following the ceremony in Philadelphia, the students will steer the current ship to additional ports of call, including in Spain, Germany, Northern Ireland and Boston, before returning to Castine on July 19.

The experience gathered on board the State of Maine and other ships will prepare these young men and women for jobs in the maritime industry. Many Maine Maritime graduates will work in high-paying jobs across the maritime industry, including business, logistics and ocean studies. The job placement rate for our graduates regularly exceeds 90 percent within 90 days of graduation. These graduates are recognized around the world for excellence in leadership and integrity. Collins herself said that she often meets academy graduates on her late-night flights from Washington. She says the folks she talks to tell their stories of the work they are doing and the training they received here, which got them to where they are today.

As President John F. Kennedy said in 1963, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” The rising tide of dedicated, exceptional faculty, staff and volunteer leadership has absolutely lifted Maine Maritime Academy graduates. We are proud of the thousands of alumni successfully manning those ships across the globe.

This was my first commencement as president upon returning after graduating from Maine Maritime 32 years ago. During the ceremony, my feelings of pride for the state and its leadership college were reinforced. I hope every young man and woman across Maine considers the opportunity to access this rich asset here in Castine and then across the globe.