RUMFORD – Sara Ray and her George Washington University classmates have been talking deep into the night about how to solve the world’s problems during the past four years. While munching on leftover pizza, they’ve come up with lots of words.

After this weekend, many of these students will be putting their words into action as they join the Peace Corps, Teach for America, or a political campaign.

“We’ve been painted as a generation that doesn’t care, but we’ll be stepping out of academia and into the real world,” Ray said from her waitress job in Washington, D.C., on Monday afternoon.

On May 17, she will represent the 2,200 seniors in her class as the featured undergraduate speaker before a crowd expected to number 22,000 on the National Mall.

“I can’t even envision that,” she said.

Another featured speaker is a high school principal who earned her graduate degree. And the keynote speaker will be Julian Bond, a former congressman and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Ray, 21, the daughter of lawyer Elizabeth Maddaus of Dixfield and civil engineer professor Malcolm Ray of Canton. She’ll receive her degree in linguistics and anthropology, and in the fall, leave for a Peace Corps assignment in Macedonia.

To become a featured undergraduate speaker she had to beat the best essayists from the five colleges that make up George Washington University. She is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences.

She will speak about talking into the night on how to solve the world’s problems, something that her mother told her about years ago.

“We’ll actually be doing it,” she said of her and her classmates’ efforts to make the world a better place by being active in it.

Macedonia, once a part of Yugoslavia in Eastern Europe, is a place Ray believes to be an emerging region.

“It’s a unique part of the world,” she said.

And it is an important region to become familiar with if she goes on to work for a U.S government intelligence agency, or becomes a lawyer, or gets a Ph.D. in linguistics.

Those goals may change once she completes two years teaching English in Macedonia. Other Peace Corps volunteers have changed life goals once serving, she said.

She and her family moved to Maine from Iowa when she was in the seventh grade. She attended Dirigo Middle School, then through her sophomore year, Dirigo High School. She graduated from the Maine School of Science and Math in Limestone in 2004, which she wanted to attend as a step toward independence, she said.

She loves Maine and credits the state, Dirigo, and Western Maine with teaching her how to take what one has and make a good time from it.

She said students she has met from New York City, for example, kept saying they were bored in Washington, D.C. She can’t imagine that.

“Maine taught me how to have a good time and to use my imagination and ingenuity,” she said. “I’m grateful that my parents raised us in a small Maine town,”

After college graduation, she’ll be home in Dixfield and Canton for a few weeks. She’ll have a chance, the first in many years, to read for pleasure. She’ll tackle some Russian literature. Then in the fall, she’ll add the Macedonian language to her existing knowledge of Chinese before heading to the East European country.

“After Sunday, we”ll graduate from sitting around and talking to doing something about it.” she said.

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