Presque Isle Region

Presque Isle High School graduates told to ‘go forth and be awesome’

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — One-hundred and twenty four students at Presque Isle High School marched into the gymnasium on Friday, June 8, more than ready to receive their diplomas and begin the next exciting stage in their lives.

After listening to classmate David Hosea perform the national anthem, the students sat anxiously in their seats while class president and valedictorian Christina Skidgel welcomed the hundreds of family members and friends in attendance.

“If I have learned anything in English class over the past four years, it is that no one likes a cliche, so I’m going to do my best to not make this your typical graduation speech,” Skidgel said.

She encouraged students to appreciate their parents, grandparents, teachers and everyone who has helped make their journey to graduation a rewarding, and often fun, adventure. Although moving on will likely mean losing touch with friends they have known their whole lives, she reminded them that their best years are still ahead of them.

“The first steps are going to be the hardest. We’re basically leaving all that we have come to know behind, but that’s OK. Years from now we will be able to look back on all the times we spent here at Presque Isle High School,” Skidgel said. “A wise woman once told me to ‘go forth and be awesome’ and that is my advice to you today.”

Student Jessica Boucher performed a rendition of “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts before class speaker Taylor Billings was invited on stage. Billings took a humorous approach to her speech in hopes of also avoiding the “cliche” graduation speech and kept her audience engaged throughout.

“Please remain seated for the next few hours while I explain my years in MSAD 1 from kindergarten to senior year in this 105-degree gymnasium. You can keep tally marks of every time I refer to the senior class as ‘my fellow graduates’ and every time I make you laugh,” Billings said, making her audience laugh, as predicted. “You might need a huge piece of paper, so let’s get started.”

Billings advised her class to remember both the good and the more stressful times of high school — like the “embarrassing” moments at their first pep rally or “crying” about the books that their English teachers made them read — as well as the people who made all those memories even better.

“Although our class has had ups and downs, one thing is for sure. We are awesome and we rock. We are individuals and we are full of potential,” Billings said. “The future will bring us all into a whole new story because this moment, my fellow graduates, is only the beginning. Tally mark for that one.”

Edmund Cervone, director of Educate Maine, gave the keynote address and told students three things that he wanted them to know more than anything: congratulations on a job well done, work hard and do good and they are all lucky to be graduates of Presque Isle High School.

“School today is much harder than when myself and your parents graduated. The world is bigger. You’re bombarded with technology and information coming at you 24/7. But you manage to navigate that world anyway and for that you deserve recognition,” Cervone said.

As part of his career Cervone, a New Jersey native, has worked with businesses to create greater educational and economic development opportunities for Maine students and the state’s workforce. He told students that businesses and organizations today want people who have talent and are willing to take chances, even if it means making mistakes before succeeding. That means, Cervone noted, students should become lifelong learners and not be afraid to try things that they might not have experienced in the classroom.

Cervone recognized that, like himself, many students will travel to and perhaps live in other places after high school or college. But he encouraged them to eventually come back to Maine and use their talents to make their communities better places for the next generations.

“After 17 years, I still appreciate how beautiful this state is. I love small towns and their sense of community,” Cervone said. “Don’t lose focus of what makes this place special. You all are helping to write the next chapter in Maine and in Aroostook County’s history.”

Before members of the Class of 2018 received their diplomas, Principal Ben Greenlaw asked the students in the top 10 percent of the class to stand up for a round of applause. He then invited the top five students — Skidgel, Tyler Levesque, Gabrielle Jandreau, Everett Zuras and Dora Wang — onstage to receive certificates in honor of their achievements.

Greenlaw urged all students to celebrate graduation with the people who mean the most to them and to use the lessons they’ve learned from those mentors to help others as they move forward in their personal and professional endeavors.

“Thank your parents and your teachers, who have invested time and numerous resources toward your success. I encourage you to invest in others in a similar manner,” Greenlaw said. “You all have unique skills that you could use to make a positive impact on this world. I wish everyone the very best.”

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