Houlton graduates enter next chapter

HOULTON, Maine — Houlton’s Class of 2021 has endured many challenges, extending beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not deter the hearty group of 85 graduates from enjoying Thursday evening’s commencement ceremony.

Class trips, band and choral concerts and annual play productions were but a few of the many traditional events that were unable to be held this year because of the coronavirus. The class was also the first group of sixth-graders to make the move to Houlton Middle High School, joining students in grades 7-12, back in 2014.

Students gathered at the high school parking lot earlier in the evening for a parade through town before arriving at the Houlton International Airport for an outdoor graduation ceremony. It marks the second straight year that the school has held its commencement outside at the airport.

Featuring a drive-in style graduation, family members were asked to remain inside their vehicles, except when it was time to receive their diplomas on the stage erected inside the airport hangar. While no outside spectators were allowed to attend the event, the ceremony was broadcast live courtesy of WHOU-FM.

Class President Drew Foley welcomed those in attendance and spoke on the district’s word of the year “resilience.” 

“I do not think any other word more perfectly describes the Class of 2021,” Foley said. “When we first heard that we would be the first sixth grade class to move up to the high school building, many of us were excited, but we were also disappointed that no sixth grade graduation would mark our transition to junior high. After the initial shock, we showed resilience navigating the halls of Houlton High School, joining middle school athletic teams, band and chorus, and auditioning for musicals. We showed future classes that with grit and determination sixth-graders could excel in the high school building.”

Houlton senior Courtney Beck applauds during Thursday evening’s commencement ceremony at the Houlton International Airport. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Salutatorian Gabe Fitzpatrick impressed the audience by reciting his speech from memory, after a gust of wind blew his papers off the podium. Fitzpatrick encouraged his peers to actively seek discomfort and chase experiences even if they did not want to. 

“I am standing at this podium right now because I did not avoid unpleasant tasks,” he said. “I did not enjoy homework. I did not relish studying. But, I saw the long-term benefits of education.”

He also recalled how he overcame a fear of driving following a traffic accident that destroyed his vehicle. “It took time, but eventually I decided that I was done with fear,” he said. “I sat in my car, and even though I was very uncomfortable, I began to drive. When you attack fear, you take back control, grow as a person, and bolster your persistence.”

DeWayne Morse, assistant principal at Houlton Middle-High School, was the guest speaker for Thursday evening’s commencement ceremony. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Isabel Cyr, first honor essayist, introduced the evening’s guest speaker, Assistant Principal DeWayne Morse. She said the class described Morse as a selfless, dynamic, empathetic, thoughtful and caring teacher in the classroom.

“A sensitive individual, [Morse] often teared up reading ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ and other moving stories to the class, and we all witnessed his emotional response to the yearbook dedication,” Cyr said. “This authenticity makes students feel special in this often impersonal world.”

Morse said he was humbled to be selected as the guest speaker and was overjoyed by the efforts the class put forth in their final year.

“It goes without saying that this school year has been challenging, but you pulled it off with elegance, grace, understanding and a real sense of teamwork,” Morse said.

Valedictorian Dina Kortesky challenged her peers to create a better world around them in her remarks. 

“Take pride in your potential, and when the world tries to bring you down, lift the world up,” she said. “After all, what lies before us will be more challenging, yet more thrilling, than ever. When we meet again at our reunion, we will not be the individuals we are today. The faces will be familiar, yes, but we will have changed in monumental ways. I look forward to seeing your new ‘best!’”

Sidney Peabody, second-honor essayist, recited the class ode prior to the conferring of diplomas.

Sidney Peabody, second honor essayist, recites the Class Ode during Thursday evening’s graduation ceremony for Houlton Middle-High School. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)



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