Caribou’s Class of 2021 reimagines trials as triumphs at graduation ceremony

3 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Piled into folding chairs, bleachers and dotting a nearby hill, friends and family of the Class of 2021 gathered at the Caribou High School soccer field to celebrate the graduation of the school’s 124 seniors. 

Opening the ceremony was Afton Marker, who gave a solo vocal rendition of the National Anthem followed by senior class president Malachai Willey, who delivered the invocation. 

Salutatorian Ronald Guerrette took the podium next to address the class. Drawing from an eclectic library of cultural references — from ancient sea shanties to the founding fathers to rapper DaBaby — he saluted his fellow classmates for the impact they’ve had on each other.

“In about one hour when we receive our diplomas, our class ranks, our GPAs and all of the filler used on our college applications will dissipate like a lifting fog and become meaningless,” Guerrette said. “But our memories of these four years and the relationships we have made will last a lifetime and will shape us endlessly.”

Principal Eric McGough spoke next to address the class and applaud their resiliency. Not only did Caribou’s class of 2021 persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions and trials, but through great personal loss as well.

In June 2020, class member Kacie Haney died in a tragic car crash. Only a handful of years earlier, in 2016, the class lost another member, Zachary Gagnon, who died after a years-long battle with Ewing’s sarcoma. This March, Caribou students from Jobs for Maine Graduates opened a food pantry named in honor of their lost friends.

At Sunday’s ceremony, two chairs adorned with commencement regalia and bouquets of flowers held places for Haney and Gagnon among their classmates. 

“This class has been heralded for excellence in academics, athletics, leadership, service and character, and I don’t think that’s any coincidence given the challenges they’ve faced along the way,” McGough said. 

After McGough spoke, commencement speaker Kris Doody, CEO of Cary & Pines, nurse and Caribou alumna, addressed the audience. Dressed in a blue checked frock and Dorothy’s iconic glittering red heels, Doody drew on the lessons of Victor Flemming’s classic American film “The Wizard of Oz” in her speech. 

“Dorothy discovers she’s always been the owner of her own destiny, just like all of you are,” Doody said. “It’s not about dreams, wishes and desires, but making those dreams come true.”

The final speaker was valedictorian Alaina Quinlan who celebrated the positive contributions of classmates, family and teachers. She repurposed the law enforcement adage “if you see something, say something,” to compliment the dedication of her companions and mentors to the school and the community.

“I can say with confidence that I’ve witnessed the group once deemed in elementary school as one of the most unruly, loud, reluctant learners transform into the strong, capable, resilient and successful men and women in these seats beside me,” Quinlan said. 

Once the students received their diplomas, they stood for a playing of their class song, “We Run This Town,” by Luke Bryan, before recessing from the ceremony and into the open arms of their waiting families and friends.

CARIBOU, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Afton Marker performs the national anthem at the Sunday commencement ceremony for Caribou High School. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

CARIBOU, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Commencement marshals Cory Herbert (left) and Edie Shea lead the processional of Caribou High School graduates into the Sunday afternoon ceremony. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

CARIBOU, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Dressed as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”, commencement speaker Kris Doody — Cary & Pines CEO, nurse and Caribou High School graduate — addresses graduates at the 2021 graduation ceremony. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

CARIBOU, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Valedictorian Alaina Quinlan speaks to the friends, family and graduates gathered on the lower soccer field at Caribou High School during the 2021 commencement ceremony. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

CARIBOU, Maine — June 13, 2021 — After graduating, the Class of 2021 recesses out of the ceremony, led by marshals Edie Shea (left) and Cory Herbert. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)