FARMINGTON — Members of the University of Maine at Farmington’s inaugural class of the Masters of Science in Education – Educational Leadership program took their place at the front of the line Saturday as 392 graduates prepared to receive their degrees.
“I’ve been waiting for this for 21 years,” said Martha “Beth” Whittle, a special education teacher at Regional School Unit 9, before receiving her master’s degree.
Whittle is one of the 11 RSU 9 teachers who have now been added to the ranks of 90 educators in the district who hold master’s degrees, according to school officials.
Saturday’s master’s recipients were Jacob Bogar, Hattie DeRaps, Samuel Dunbar, Martha Whittle, Meadow Sheldon and Jocelyn Cahill from Mt. Blue High School; Cynthia Stevens, Stacey Augustine, Keith Martin and Rhonda Hartford from W. G. Mallett Elementary School in Farmington; and Jenny MacIsaac from Cushing Elementary School in Wilton.
Mallett School now has 18 teachers with master’s degrees.
Dr. Phillip Griswold, assistant dean of education and the Director of Graduate Programs, confirmed that the Farmington-based school district had the most representation in the new master’s program than any other region.
As she waited with her colleagues for commencement to start, MacIsaac said she started on a master’s at the University of Southern Maine right after graduating from UMF in 2000. She had to drop out when she got pregnant with twins.
The new, three-year master’s program at UMF has been great, she said. It was close to home, her family was there to help and all of her credits from USM were accepted.
“I had a lot to juggle with family, working full time and going to school one night a week and in the summers,” she said. “The professors were wonderful and very good to work with.”
“When I first started out as a teacher, I looked at myself just as someone who works with kids,” MacIsaac said.
“Now, the program taught us about leadership and how to change practices,” she said. “I learned to involve parents in the education process, and it has made me more of a leader in my school.”
Mallett School teachers praised the program’s “cohort” model of instruction, in which colleagues work together and support each other during the program and after it is completed.
“I learned about using the strengths each of us has, about flexibility and patience, and about teamwork,” Keith Martin said.
Stevens, who at 57 was the oldest member of the Class of 2011, said she felt more confident as a professional and said it had encouraged her to strive to do her best.
Griswold said the Mallett and Mt. Blue High teaching teams worked on extensive research projects that had significant impacts on their respective schools. At Mallett, he said, teachers did an in-depth evaluation of an after-school program. At the high school, the cohort studied literacy skills across the disciplines.
Also graduating Saturday was Alexander Willette of Mapleton, with a degree in political science. A Republican, he was elected in November to represent House District 9 in Aroostook County.
Before commencement began, he said his decision to run for office was made with the encouragement of political science Professor James Melcher, who urged Willette to get involved in public service.
He said his biggest concern as a legislator is that Maine has the oldest state population in the nation and that young people are leaving in huge numbers.
“I love Maine and knew I wanted to stay here and so do several of my classmates,” Willette said. “Unfortunately, because of years of a poor business climate here, many are planning to leave to find a good-paying job with benefits.”
He said he got involved with politics and ran for office because he believes it is possible to foster job growth “and help keep my generation in Maine.”
During the commencement program, UMF President Theodora Kalikow introduced keynote speaker Bill McKibben, a leading environmentalist and author who has written extensively about climate change. He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
He is the founder of 350.org, the International Days of Climate Action, that in its first year, resulted in more than 7,000 events in 188 countries. The events were organized to demonstrate local efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Kalikow said.
Farmington was among the communities that participated in last fall’s events.
In his remarks, McKibben said 350.org succeeded because it created a sense of community among people around the world who shared a concern about the severe effects of climate change.
“It was called the most widespread day of political action, and the great pleasure of this work is doing it together,” he said.
He urged graduates to find ways to “reknit communities” as a way to bring about social change.
The student speaker was Jeffrey Lees of Vassalboro, who challenged his fellow graduates to “do something every day that betters the lives of others. … Never let the pessimism of others prevent you from the success you know you can achieve.”
One of the measures of success is one’s contribution to community, he said. As a graduating class and as a generation, he urged his peers to “answer the call to action” and “make this world a better place for all humanity.”
A Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree was also awarded to Robert Shetterly, who was recognized by Provost Allen Berger for his “remarkable accomplishments as a painter, as an educator, and as an unfailing and articulate voice for social justice in America.”