PIHS graduates urged to embrace perseverance, determination in the years ahead

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Through many emotional speeches and music performances, Presque Isle High School’s Class of 2021 said goodbye while also looking forward to brighter futures ahead.

On Saturday, 111 students sat outside their former middle school, on the same turf where many played soccer or cheered each other on during track meets. The outdoor ceremony, with its clear blue skies and warm, often strong, late spring winds, stood in stark contrast to the smaller graduation ceremonies that the pandemic forced upon last year’s class.

During their graduation ceremony on Saturday, Presque Isle High School recognized the Class of 2021’s top five students (from left to right): Ian MacKinnon, Jude Mosher, Cerena Wu, Ethan Wydysh and Holden Zuras. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

Class president Cerena Wu thanked the teachers and administrators who helped make the in-person ceremony possible and who gave the class many memories to cherish in the years to come. 

She also encouraged her classmates to be proud of the work they put into their education thus far.

“To say that we have worked hard to get here is an understatement. Our class is full of the most dedicated, resilient and passionate students who balance academics, athletics, the arts and work,” Wu said. “There is no doubt in my mind that all of us will continue to make PIHS and our community proud.”

Presque Isle High School class president Cerena Wu speaks during the graduation ceremony on Saturday. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

Landyn Newlands recalls fond memories of Presque Isle High School during the graduation ceremony on Saturday. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

They also had a lot of fun along the way, noted student speaker Landyn Newlands. Whether the class was working toward a Winter Carnival victory or trying to learn the “We got spirit” chant, they always put in every effort to succeed. During their final year of school, many also dealt with strong cases of “senioritis.”

“The amount of times we have thought about dropping out of school cannot be calculated by simply counting on two hands. But nonetheless, we did it,” said Newlands.

But the past school year also became filled with uncertainty due to the pandemic. Even before they were seniors, Newlands and his classmates dealt with several months of online learning and a lack of in-person connections. 

For Newlands, those experiences and the school year that followed made him realize how persistent the Class of 2021 became.

“If there is one thing our class is known for, it is not just that we are audacious and determined, it is that we are able,” Newlands said. “Able to face any obstacle with an open mind and great sense of strategy. Able to make memories in the most strenuous and trying of times. Able to find the good moments in a bad situation.”

Throughout the ceremony, many students used music to express their sadness about leaving high school behind and the importance of remembering their roots. Early in the evening, Meg Casavant performed “I’ll Always Remember You” by Hannah Montana. Graduates Madelyn Buzza, Alaina Sperrey and Sabrina Sperrey sang Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me,” accompanied by Holden Zuras on guitar.

Meg Casavant performs “I’ll Always Remember You” by Hannah Montana during Presque Isle High School’s graduation. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

Alberto Guevara (second from right) looks at his diploma with his brother Junior Guevara (third from right) and classmate Ben Whitney while classmates Kody St. Peter (far left) and Gunner Carter look on. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

Students also heard advice from 1986 PIHS graduate Chris Condon, president and CEO of United Insurance. Condon noted that as he was driving back to his hometown from southern Maine, he thought of a metaphor from his background in marketing that he believed would be his most important message.




“Find your personal brand,” Condon said. “What do you stand for? What do you believe in? Right now your brand is defined by a lot of different people — your teachers, your parents, your friends. But as you turn to the next chapter of adulthood, the responsibility is yours alone. Be thoughtful of what you want your brand to be.”

Condon recalled many moments from middle and high school that he now thinks shaped him to become the adult he is. For instance, during a summer basketball camp in middle school, he did not win awards for basketball skills but was recognized for having the “most desire.”

Whatever desires the Class of 2021 have for their futures, they should find ways to invest in their goals and take advantage of the lessons they have learned as Aroostook County youth, Condon said.

“Every time I’ve seen a resume from someone who’s from Aroostook County, it tends to drift up,” Condon said. “Don’t ever think that coming from a place like Presque Isle is a negative. People [in southern Maine] love hiring people from Aroostook because of the work ethic that is part of the brand.”

PIHS graduate Madelyn Buzza shares a hug with history teacher Zachary Powers after receiving her diploma. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

Prior to receiving their diplomas, numerous students were named as scholarship recipients, with many coming from local organizations. PIHS David Bartlett noted that the Class of 2021 set a record for scholarship funds, receiving a total of $300,717.

Bartlett recognized the students whose grade point averages make up the top 10 percent of their class: Buzza, Mackenzie Hayes, Ian MacKinnon, Connor Michaud, Jude Mosher, Alaina Sperrey, Sabrina Sperrey, Amanda Winslow, Cerena Wu, Ethan Wydysh and Zuras. 

Presque Isle High School students Hattie Bubar (left) and Rachel Milliard share a laugh while attending their graduation ceremony on Saturday. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

Zuras, Wydysh, Wu, Mosher, and MacKinnon were also recognized, in that order, for making up the top five students in the class, determined using their GPAs.

While acknowledging the unusual challenges that the graduating class faced this year, Bartlett urged them all to enter the rest of their lives with the same perseverance and strength.

“I leave you with these words from George H.W. Bush,” Bartlett said. “”Be bold in your caring, be bold in your dreaming and above all else, always do your best.'”