Alum urges Presque Isle university graduates to choose work that will leave them ‘happy and fulfilled’

During the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, Presque Isle native and state Rep. Harold “Trey” Stewart began his address to this year’s graduates with a question: What does he wish he had known while sitting through his own commencement three years ago?

UMPI President Ray Rice, left, presents Dan Ladner with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the university’s commencement ceremony on Saturday. Ladner is a 1959 alumnus of UMPI and is known as a local educator and advocate of community theater and cultural arts.
Melissa Lizotte|The Star-Herald

“What I can tell you is that being from Maine, especially Aroostook County, has its advantages, so wear your ‘Made in Maine’ label proud,” Stewart said. “When Mainers go to job interviews, anywhere in the country, people immediately think of our work ethic and dignity.”

Stewart continued by sharing three main pieces of advice with the 179 students who anxiously sat in their seats, waiting for the moment to receive their diplomas. He encouraged the graduates, many of whom are part of the internet savvy “Generation Z,” to delete any social media posts that might harm their reputation with future employers and their chances at achieving their career goals.

He went on to suggest that the graduates embrace the phrase “Yes, if” instead of “No, because” when facing personal and professional challenges.

“The people who make it in the world are those who look for ways to get things done, those who use the power of ‘yes,’” Stewart said.

As the youngest legislative leader of the 129th Legislature, the Republican representative advised graduates to not let the typical labels of their generation define who they become. Being involved in their communities and going above and beyond in their professional endeavors, he said, can help rid older generations of the images of “Generation Z” as simply being obsessed with technology and social media.

UMPI social work majors Lauren Harris (left) and Emilie Hebert pose before the university’s commencement ceremonies on Saturday.
Melissa Lizotte|The Star-Herlad

“Don’t believe those labels. They have nothing to do with you,” Stewart said. “Be the person who makes older generations say, ‘She’s not like her peers. She’s one of us.’”

Before officially being named graduates, the Class of 2019 also listened to the wisdom of a 1959 alum and beloved local music teacher Dan Ladner. During his career, Ladner has taught English and public speaking at Presque Isle High School; founded the school’s drama club, the Shipmates Playhouse; served as director of the Caribou Performing Arts Center; and currently directs the Caribou Choral Society. He is a founding member of the Presque Isle Community Players and was involved in the former Pioneer Playhouse at the university from 1973 to 1994.

On Saturday, the university presented Ladner with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his contributions to cultural arts and education in Aroostook County. He stated that coming back to the university for commencement was “one of the greatest days” of his life and a “highlight” in his career. He addressed graduates with a speech he framed on two topics: time and jobs.

Maine State Representative Harold “Trey” Stewart served as the commencement speaker during UMPI’s graduation ceremonies on Saturday, May 11.
Melissa Lizotte|The Star-Herald

“As children, you all had jobs to do around the house, and the older you got the more jobs you had. Sometimes time flew by and sometimes it dragged on and on,” Ladner said. “Still, you could hardly wait for your 18th birthday and you wanted to do all the cool things that adults get to do.”

While taking on all the “fun” challenges of being adults, Ladner said, the graduates will likely find that time goes by much faster than they thought. One of the biggest indicators of that will be receiving their invitation to their 10-year college reunion. Then their 20th, 30th and so on.

But Ladner reminded the graduates that how they spend those years will always be more important than how fast time goes by.

“Choose work that makes you happy and fulfilled. Choose activities that will enrich your life and make a difference in your community,” Ladner said. “If you do that, the years will fly by in a good way.”

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