Members of the UMaine class of 2023 march from the field house to the Alfond Arena during commencement on Saturday, May 6 in Orono, Maine. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

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Graduations are special, memorable moments for students and their families. Graduation speeches, despite the eloquent words and thoughtfulness, might not always be as memorable. Sometimes those speeches can get lost in the pomp and circumstance.

To begin her May 6 commencement address at Maine Maritime Academy, Sen. Susan Collins relatably recalled her own graduation experience.

“I will confess to the graduates here today that I approach this honor with a little bit of trepidation, because I do not remember a word that my graduation speaker spoke, not a word,” Collins said. “In fact, I can’t even tell you who spoke at my graduation.”

We’re confident that Collins is not alone there. Still, there have been many words of reflection and congratulation worth remembering at graduations across Maine this year.

Nadine Bravo, this year’s University of Southern Maine (USM) student commencement speaker, highlighted the difficulties of learning during the pandemic.

“Emotional and humbled, I am proud to be graduating with you. Standing here as a middle-aged woman, a mother of three, becoming a teacher had been a dream since 2004. Life got in the way, but I would not have wanted to miss one beat of it,” Bravo, who earned a Master of Education degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages while pursuing a Master of Education in Teaching and Learning World Language, said in her May 6 speech. “Our adventure as students has not been the easiest, yet it impacted us in many ways. I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter how long it takes, it is how much we persevere to reach our dreams.”

She spoke of the challenges learning during the pandemic, but also about how the experience helped her step out of her comfort zone. And she quoted Mexican artist Frida Kahlo: “Al final del dia, podemos aguantar mucho mas de lo que pensamos que podemos.”

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can,” Bravo translated.

University of Maine commencement speaker Anne Hall, a retired U.S. ambassador and member of the UMaine class of 1981, also spoke about overcoming challenges.

“The world you are inheriting will throw down a lot of challenges and we will need all of you to meet those challenges,” Hall told graduates in Orono on May 6. “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.”

As explained by BDN reporter Julia Bayly, one of those UMaine graduates, education major Ben Campbell, said his experience living in a fraternity house during the pandemic gave him a chance 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.’”

At the USM ceremony, school president Jacqueline Edmondson also highlighted the different circumstances students have faced recently.

“You earned your degree under circumstances that were anything but ordinary,” Edmondson told graduates. “You navigated a worldwide pandemic. You faced the realities of systemic racism and civil unrest in the United States. You persisted during times of political and economic uncertainty. You faced personal challenges, and yes, you pursued your educational goals and you were unwavering in your hope for a new and better future.”

The graduates might not need the reminder, but it’s important for the rest of us to recognize and appreciate this journey.

“You took classes from your bedrooms, from your kitchens, your cars, your classrooms, and many other places. You accomplished much while also fielding tremendous challenges,” Edmondston continued. “And here you are.”

And here they are. Graduates across the state have our congratulations and appreciation for the many challenges they have overcome in recent years, and the bright futures they have ahead of them.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...