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Ashland graduates encouraged to keep small-town values with them

ASHLAND, Maine– Twenty seven students graduated from Ashland District School on Friday, June 8, and gained much advice and wisdom from fellow classmates and an Ashland alumna.

Valedictorian Ariana Stadig, who will major in elementary education at Husson University this fall, kicked off the ceremony with a message of hope for her classmates. She stated that although leaving the comfort of their small school and close friendships will be difficult, the life skills and memories they gained have prepared them well for their future goals.

“We’ve learned how to work together, how to support each other and treat people with respect and kindness and how to form strong friendships,” Stadig said. “I credit these skills with growing up in a small community.”

Mackenzie Carter (left) and Micyala Driscoll pose before the graduation ceremony at Ashland District School last Friday.
(Courtesy of Michelle Fournier)

Stadig noted that at Ashland District School, her class had the unique opportunity to grow up with friends who come from many towns, including Ashland, Masardis and Portage, as well as plantations such as Oxbow and Nashville. Regardless of where the students came from, community members, staff and teachers were always ready to cheer them on and help them through the challenges of high school.

In a world where much of peoples’ daily news is filled with stories of school shootings, terrorist attacks and struggling economies, Stadig said it can be easy for students to take their close-knit school for granted. But because of the commitment and dedication of school officials and parents, she feels confident that she and her classmates can face the world with the right attitude.

“I give a huge thank you to our parents and families. Thank you for worrying about us, for helping us with homework and for driving us to practices before we had our licenses,” Stadig said. “Thank you for coming to our games and concerts and for listening to our complaints and joys. We could not have done this without you.”

Class salutatorian Daniel Rafford used a personal story to explain how perseverance can take many forms. Rafford’s father, Deane Rafford, suffered from bouts of lymphatic cancer and the effects of chemotherapy and surgery before he passed away in February 2012. Though his father lost much of his physical strength, Rafford said he never stopped providing for his family.

“My father was strong in character and persevered beyond his limits through sheer will. He was the strongest man I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting,” Rafford said. “I aspire to be every bit as strong as he was and a son he would’ve been proud of.”

Rafford, who will begin pursuing his degree in English from the University of Maine at Fort Kent this fall, told students that their own attitude and perseverance will determine future success and encouraged them to always keep moving toward their goals.

“Success is not determined by your popularity or talent,” Rafford said. “Talent helps, but the key to your success is whether you have the will to get back up after you’ve fallen. If you decide to stay down, that is the moment you fail.”

In addition to receiving their degrees, students earned a total of $134,620 in scholarships from community organizations and alumni donors that will support their educational endeavors.

The evening drew to a close as Melanie Cote Blais, a member of Ashland District School’s class of 1992, gave the keynote address to students. Since graduating, Blais has had a lengthy career in education, first teaching at her alma mater before becoming principal of Washburn District Elementary School in 2013. This fall she will begin a new position as curriculum coordinator for RSU 29 in Houlton.

Friday night’s ceremony had a special meaning for Blais, as her daughter, Megan Cote, graduated with the Class of 2018. Blais remembered that when she began teaching at Ashland District School her classroom was where her former fourth-grade teacher, Micheal Millett, had taught. Years before, on her first day of kindergarten, her mother began her first day as a bus driver, a job she continues today.

“There was something special about teaching in Ashland — my home,” Blais said. “The people who filled the hallways and classrooms at this school truly made me who I am today and for that I’ll always be grateful.”

As she spoke to Ashland’s newest crop of graduates, Blais wanted them to know that regardless of where they go in life or even if they do not know what they want to do yet, it is OK for them to make mistakes and learn from their failures.

“First of all, I hope you fail. Yes, I said, ‘I hope you fail,’” Blais said. “We’ve all had failures along the way, but don’t be afraid to take risks. It was my own most heartbreaking failure that helped me prioritize what was important.”

When deciding what is important in their own lives, Blais hopes that students do not forget to forge strong relationships with their families, friends and co-workers in addition to successful careers.

“Cherish the relationships you have with friends and family. Your career will be important, but so are the people in your life,” Blais said. “Don’t forget the people along the way who helped you get where you are.”

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