Thursday night’s graduation in Stover Auditorium had the crowd on its feet for Wiscasset Middle High School Class of 2018 members serving the town or planning to serve their country. The class rose to its feet for school staff members Deb Pooler and Cynthia Carter. Class Vice President Vanessa Dunn sang and smiled through tears and later hugged her father, School Committee Chair Michael Dunn, when he handed her her diploma on stage.
And Sam Strozier punctuated his walk through the diploma line of handshakes and tassel-turning with a loud pop that released confetti high over his and Principal Peg Armstrong’s heads and landed in part on the gym floor below. Classmates called out “Sam” as the squares of green, red, pink, blue and yellow settled.
He’d been planning it at least a few weeks, the University of Southern Maine-bound wrestling standout said in the lobby later, in the current of new graduates, their families and other well-wishers.
In the ceremony, Dunn and Corey Campbell sang Nichole Nordeman’s “Slow Down” as Campbell played the upright piano. They dedicated the performance to their parents. In a text response to a question later, Michael Dunn said: “"We were surprised, and very proud. I love these girls, and when Vanessa looked over to me I think she just meant to smile, but she saw that I was so proud of her.
“It’s been a pretty emotional week,” he continued. “We all have some big changes ahead of us!”
Attendees cheered as Ayanna Main hit a high note in Jonathan Larson’s “Seasons of Love” she was performing with Campbell. At diploma time, the man the auditorium was named after, Main’s grandfather and School Committee member Eugene Stover, came up on stage. They hugged.
Pooler’s and Carter’s joint speech hit all the right notes with graduates, who had picked the two to speak. Several later said the speech was their favorite moment. “"It was really nice,” Jesse Perkins said.
It noted seniors’ qualities including the kindness of Logan Giles and Mackenzie Huston; the helpfulness of Nick Simmons, Sawyer Hull, Jeff Moore, Andrew Hendrickson and Zach Reed; and the service-mindedness of Kevin Wenzel, who Pooler said works for the town and set up most of the chairs that night, ROTC-bound Lindsey Gordon and Matt Martin, and Ryan Medina who will serve in the Marines.
The two spoke of Dunn’s fighting for her beliefs in a letter to the editor so good, Pooler noted, the Wiscasset Newspaper hired her; the grit of Dylan Ames, Nick DeLong, Michael Casey, Caitlyn Pinkham, Jason Campbell and Josh Golden; the example Clara Mugnai, Main, Kobe Carrier, Campbell, Perkins and Nathan Hargreaves have set in doing what they love; the fun Strozier, Ben Masten and Maeve Blodgett find in life; the good art of Lily Wagg and August Moore; and the example Trinin Jeffrey and Max Sampson set in how to treat people.
Pooler and Carter said Noah Peaslee has taught his classmates to follow their own paths; Arieanna Mills has taught them to find a cause; Sarah Foley, Grace Webber and Ron Drake look at the bright side; and Ella Jones, Leah Potter and Becca Mellin read voraciously and think deeply.
The two said they and all the teachers have learned tenacity, empathy and true kindness from the class, which Pooler, voice wavering, said has been the hardest one to let go. “We have fallen in love with this class, but we are happy for you,” she added.
Gordon prefaced her welcome remarks as class president with a moment of silence for classmate Gavin Clark, who died in 2015. The purple ribbons they had on were for him, she said.
She went on to recount the class’s prowess on multiple fronts including winter carnival. They were the first sophomores to win it, Gordon said. She likened the class to a garden, aided by the adults at the school, and now thriving.
“We’re ready to be picked and sent our separate ways after 13 years ... We have you, the teachers and staff of WMHS, to thank.”
Senior essayist Mugnai said, “When you are part of a community where everyone practices being good people, it’s a pretty good place to be.” Not every school has teachers who will give up their prep periods or other time to talk with students about life, help them relearn a lesson or prep them for a test, she said.
In and outside the school, families expressed pride. Nicholas DeLong’s mother Vicki DeLong and Michael Casey’s mother Samantha Casey did a fist bump. Their sons have beven in school together since Head Start. DeLong said she told hers before the ceremony, “You did it. You made it.”
Former Alna first selectman David Abbott and wife Linda, who taught the class in primary school, had neighbor Sawyer Hull graduating. Seeing him and the others graduate was very exciting, Linda Abbott said.
Deb Ethier said it was an emotional night for her and graduating grandson Kevin Wenzel because her husband, his grandfather Arthur Ethier, didn't live to see it. He died last October. Ethier said Wenzel wore his grandfather’s shoes and Bath Iron Works pin to graduation.