Caribou graduates urged to make positive impact on the future

2 weeks ago

CARIBOU, Maine – Ninety-six students received their diplomas as part of Caribou High School’s Class of 2024 graduation Sunday.

Graduates, school staff and family members packed into the gymnasium, cheering for the classmates as they walked across the stage and posed for photos. 

But before their big moments, the class sat together one last time and listened to the advice of a peer and those who know what it’s like to be in their shoes.

Valedictorian Claire Ouellette thanked her classmates, their teachers, administrators and family members for supporting the class throughout their four years. Along the way, she said, they have all learned important lessons beyond academics.

Ouellette recalled how her class won the school’s winter carnival tug-of-war competition three years in a row. That was one of many times, she said, when it seemed like they were just having fun, but were actually gaining valuable skills.

“Standing together on one side of a rope, we worked together to achieve a common goal. We learned how to work hard, collaborate and do everything with integrity,” Ouellette said. “I encourage you to make wherever you end up a better place.”

Caribou High Class of 1991 graduate and U.S. Attorney General for the State of Maine Darcie McElwee served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker.

CARIBOU, Maine — June 9, 2024 — U.S. District Attorney for Maine Darcie McElwee and Caribou High 1991 graduate shares advice with the Class of 2024 Sunday. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

McElwee has spent her entire career as a prosecutor, first, as an assistant district attorney in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, then as an assistant U.S. district attorney in Portland. The U.S. Senate confirmed her as the U.S. District Attorney for Maine in 2021.

Coming home to Caribou High brought back many memories for McElwee. 

On the gym wall near the entrance hung the school anthem that she and classmates created. She brought a copy of her 1991 yearbook, in which the class voted Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise as their favorite actors, Julia Roberts as their top actress, “Saturday Night Live” their favorite TV show and “You Can’t Touch This” by M.C. Hammer their top song.

Popular culture and the world at large has changed since 1991 but what hasn’t changed are the “Viking values” that McElwee believes have shaped her and countless generations of Caribou graduates.

“My experiences here introduced me to the values of work ethic, character and the support of community,” McElwee said. 

When McElwee asked her children what advice she should give to the class, her son said, “Care less about the approval of others.” Her daughter said, “Be serious but don’t forget to have fun.”

McElwee also offered simple but important advice that she said any student can take with them.

“Work hard and be nice to people,” McElwee said.

RSU 39 Superintendent Jane McCall had a unique perspective to bring to this year’s graduation. 

Fourteen years ago, as principal of Hilltop Elementary School, she watched many of the graduates walk through the doors on their first day of preschool.

“On that day, your families struggled to let go of your hands,” McCall said. “Today, I see those families filled with pride and with equally mixed emotions.”

Only a decade later, that same class entered high school in 2020, as the pandemic enforced safety mandates that no other students had experienced. They often dealt with disruptions to school and technologies that made learning different.

But the classmates still gained friendships and wisdom that would better prepare them for life ahead, McCall said. 

“You continued to learn and adapt despite the obstacles and be prepared for turbulent times,” McCall said. “Some of you will stay down the same path until you retire, others will travel several paths. Whatever you choose, it will be the right path for you.”

The graduation ceremony featured the high school chorus, who sang “I Am Still Your Dreamer” by Pinkzebra, and the high school band, who performed the national anthem and “Amazing Grace.”