BANGOR, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who was homeless as a boy and credits college for changing his life, returned to his alma mater Saturday to receive an honorary doctorate in public service from Husson University.

LePage told more than 500 students receiving degrees that his graduation gift to them was 10 two-letter words: “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Husson has had many alumni move on to success who surely credit the school for the impact it had on them, he said.

“Husson faculty made a difference in my life. As you may know in a story reported last year, I had a challenging childhood,” the governor said. “I also had difficulty — some would say I still have it — because my first language was and is French.”

By now, most Mainers are familiar with LePage’s story. He ran away from home at age 11 after being beaten by his father and was homeless for time before being taken in by families in Lewiston.

His English was poor and no college wanted him when he first started applying to colleges.

But the late Peter Snowe, first husband of Sen. Olympia Snowe, encouraged him to seek an interview at Husson College, and he was allowed to take an achievement test in French. LePage was accepted to Husson and in 1971 earned the “Outstanding Graduate” award.

LePage credits Snowe and Thomas J. Anthoine, owner of Anthoine Rubber Co. Inc., for offering assistance. Later he received his MBA from the University of Maine.

Before being elected governor, LePage served general manager of Marden’s, a chain of surplus and salvage stores. He’s married and has five grown children, including two from a previous marriage.

At Saturday’s ceremony, another honorary doctorate was awarded to Diana Beaudoin, educator and longtime member of the Husson Board of Trustees.

On May 21, Husson will hold a second commencement in Portland. Portland Democratic state Rep. and former Cumberland County Sheriff Marc Dion will be the commencement speaker. At the two ceremonies, Husson will award a total of 685 degrees.

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