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Fort Fairfield graduates embrace advice of peers, educators during commencement

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Members of the Class of 2019 at Fort Fairfield High School graduated Sunday afternoon after receiving final words of wisdom from those who have helped them along the way.

Class president Cassidy Coiley began the commencement ceremony on June 9 by thanking the teachers and administrators at SAD 20 and the parents, grandparents and other family members who supported the class through the students’ years of academic achievements and challenges.

“We are now ready to go out and make our mark on the world,” she said, addressing her fellow graduates. “I hope you all follow your passions and it’ll be exciting to see where we all end up. Always remember that we are alumni of the Class of 2019.”

Chelsea Ouellette was this year’s valedictorian. She reflected on how six years ago she transferred to the middle school in Fort Fairfield, dealing with the challenge of getting to know people who had already formed bonds since elementary school. But coming to Fort Fairfield proved to be “the best decision” because of the friendships she made with her classmates.

The close-knit community of FFHS helped Ouellette endure many personal challenges, including seeing her younger brother Matthew struggle with autism and losing her grandmother this past fall. She encouraged her friends to embrace the support of loved ones and their own perseverance during life’s most difficult times.

“I understand how you might feel like you’re constantly moving uphill,” Ouellette said. “But know that you can and will overcome those challenges through hard work.”

For many graduates one of those challenges, Ouellette noted, will be finding their purpose in the world. Although they all have the commonality of being from Fort Fairfield, they will each have individual contributions to bring to their community, professions and the people they care about most.

“Each of you are taking the road less traveled because you’re embarking on your own path,” Ouellette said. “Be true to who you are and if you don’t know yet who you are, then be true to who you want to be.”

Finding one’s purpose in life was also a theme that FFHS Principal Jamie Selfridge reflected on while addressing the graduates. She recalled how when she ended her high school years, she had not yet realized her passion for education. But being open to new opportunities led to an often challenging but rewarding career path.

In an age where technology dominates the lives of young people, Selfridge urged graduates to not let the allure of devices prevent them from missing valuable growth opportunities.

“Being present is vital. You cannot find your purpose if you’re not engaged in the moment,” Selfridge said. “So put down your phones and be present. You have no idea how much you could be missing.”

Selfridge recognized that many graduates might feel as though they have not yet discovered their true passion while others already know. But what matters, she said, is that they remain active in finding what truly makes them happy.

“As you grow you will continue to define your own path, which can be as wide and as long as it needs to be,” Selfridge said. “Once you find your passion run toward it and don’t look back.”

SAD 20 superintendent Tim Doak offered graduates some practical advice that he said he wishes someone had told him as a high school graduate: how to make and save money. To make money, he noted, one must find a career that fulfills them. The next steps involve saving money, spending most money on what they need instead of want and donating toward worthy causes.

Doak advised all graduates to go through life with a positive mindset and strive toward changing th1e world in ways they can be proud of when gathering for their class reunion 10 years from now.

“Whenever I leave home I start my day asking myself what I can do to make sure someone else has a good day and whether I’m prepared to meet the next challenges,” Doak said. “Nothing comes easy. Life is always going to throw you obstacles. Your mindset is the most important skill you’ll have.”

During Sunday’s ceremony, members of the Class of 2019 also received more than $60,000 in college scholarship funds, $47,000 of which was provided by local civic organizations and memorial funds in honor of community members who have since passed away.

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