Among the hundreds who received college degrees over the weekend, Andrew Shuttleworth was probably the youngest.

The 17-year-old received his bachelor’s degree during Saturday’s graduation ceremony for the University of New England, where he was the youngest graduate ever from that school.

“I’m not very old, so I have this sensation of having woken up in this world, sort of feeling like, ‘What are we doing here? What’s this all about?’ I’m looking at what humanity is all about,” he said.

Shuttleworth went to Biddeford’s UNE from Portland High School when he was 14. He is set to go into the premed program at Yale University next fall, after which he hopes to go on to medical school.

Elsewhere, Yoko Ono offered encouragement Sunday to students at the Maine College of Art in Portland, and Gov. John Baldacci returned to his alma mater to deliver the commencement address at the University of Maine.

Ono gave out silver dollar-sized pieces of a puzzle of a blue sky with clouds to the 84 graduates, and asked them to come together in 10 years and put the puzzle together.

She also gave graduates “Imagine Peace” posters and buttons, in reference to the her late husband John Lennon’s hit song “Imagine,” which peace activists adopted as an unofficial anthem.

In Orono, where degrees were awarded to 1,803 graduates, Baldacci cited the examples of Sen. Olympia Snowe and former Sen. William Cohen in urging the graduates to set their sights high on Saturday.

“Take your diploma, this light of learning, this lantern of reasoning and carry it with you, so that people from other states and other regions can continue to see the leadership that comes from Maine,” he said.

The graduates are facing a tough job market. Career counselors at colleges and universities agree that the job market has not looked this bleak since the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

One way some students are avoiding the bad job outlook is by going to graduate school. Graduate school applications are up 10 percent at the University of Maine, said Scott Delcourte, associate dean of the graduate school.

Others are pursuing opportunities such as the Peace Corps. Josh Anchors, the New England representative for the Peace Corps, said applications have been up by 40 to 50 percent in Maine.

Some who choose to work will have to look outside Maine.

“I’d really like to stay in Maine, but there aren’t any jobs,” said Mike Lewark, who graduated Saturday from the University of Maine with a degree in electrical engineering.

Lewark already has applied for eight positions at companies in or close to Maine. He was rejected by all eight.

But one career counselor said the job outlook may not be as bad as it seems. Part of the problem is that the 1990s boom raised expectations, which may make the current economy look worse than it actually is.

“It’s not the same as (before) where people were getting bonuses just for having a pulse,” said Mary Ann Benson, assistant director in career services and professional life development at the University of Southern Maine.

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