Thousands watch community college grads pick up diplomas

LEWISTON – Behold Tina, Molly and Kayla. One is a 40-year-old woman with a husband, the other two are barely old enough to legally drink.

Yet, for the past three years, the trio have been nearly inseparable. They became best friends as they labored their way through homework and class time to graduate from Central Maine Community College.

“She has been so great,” said 22-year-old Molly White of Gardiner. “She was like a mother to us.” Then as an afterthought: “But a really fun mother. She is like one of the girls.”

The fun classmate in question is 40-year-old Tina Goodwin of Turner. On Friday night, Goodwin and her two amigos were among 300 people to graduate from the Auburn college.

For Goodwin, it meant going back to the strain and pain of school more than two decades after she graduated from high school. She credits her own determination as well as the support and friendship of White and 21-year-old Kayla York for getting her all the way to a cap and gown.

“I wasn’t even going to march tonight,” Goodwin said. “I was going to just get my degree and go home.”

“No way,” said York, of Orr’s Island. “We started together, we’re going to finish together.”

The three of them each went to the podium at the Colisee in Lewiston on Friday to collect their diplomas in early childhood education.

Annee Tara, spokeswoman for the school, said it is not unusual at CMCC for three people of distinctly varying backgrounds to become close friends.

“We have people of different ages and different interests,” she said. “We have parents who go to school with their children.”

The class of 2006 was the picture of diversity. One woman ended her military career only to go to CMCC and get her degree in culinary arts. A group of people who began studying business together 10 years ago were seeing the fruits of that labor Friday night. There were graduates from countries across the globe and those who represented the firsts in entire families to ever graduate from college.

Mariah Berry of Brunswick decided after getting married and having a child that she needed to do something substantial with her life. So she enrolled in the predominantly male automotive technology class at CMCC and in doing so, carried on a family tradition.

The student chosen to deliver the class message Friday, Berry spoke of the sacrifices students must make in pursuit of their degrees. She talked about being stuck behind doing homework while friends were off having high times. She recalled pinching pennies during school years while others were off on vacations.

“Some of us sat back and thought, is it all worth it?'” Berry said. “But there was a lot of love and support to get us through those rough patches.”

The graduation ceremonies were held at the Colisee instead of at CMCC this year in anticipation of a larger-than-normal turnout. By 6 p.m., more than 2,000 people filled the arena to watch as their friends or loved ones received diplomas.

“Every one of them is looking forward to what comes next,” Tara said. “Today, it doesn’t matter. Today is about having fun.”

No problem for Goodwin, York and White. Before the ceremonies began, the three could barely stand still long enough for photographs. They were too busy recalling good times from their years at CMCC and making plans for the future.

“They’re going to call me once a month,” Goodwin said. “They’re going to tell me all about their boyfriends and all that good stuff.”

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