LEWISTON — Monika Langley’s daughter didn’t come to watch her graduate.

You can’t blame the kid, really. She’s only 8 days old. Langley, of Lewiston, was one of more than 600 people to graduate Thursday night from Central Maine Community College. As far as anyone knows, she was the only student to don the cap and gown just a week after delivering a child who came weeks early.

“I’m hurting,” the 25-year-old Lewiston woman said, standing in line and waiting to be marched out with her fellow students. “I’d really kind of like to go sit down. I thought I was going to make it through this, but I don’t know.”

Spoiler alert: Langley was there when her name was called and she was smiling plenty. The 2004 Lewiston High School graduate got her diploma and generally wowed the other students and faculty.

“She gave birth just a couple of days ago,” adviser Elaine Barry said. “And she’s right out there with the rest of them. She’s one of my favorite people on the face of the earth.”

Of the 611 graduates, 76 were in general studies, Barry said. That’s a record for the school. Of course, just about everything was a record — it was the largest class to graduate from CMCC and statewide, more people are getting diplomas from the state’s community college than ever.

With so many graduates on hand, the action in the narrow hallways at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee resembled backstage at the Oscars. School advisers and ceremony organizers were frantically trying to keep the graduates calm and the procession orderly. They glided from one end of the hall to the other, taking head counts and trying to keep the students arranged alphabetically.

“There are a lot of jitters,” said registrar Sonya Sampson. “But it’s good. They’ve done a lot of good work to get here. Big class, big excitement.”

There are a lot of stories in a graduating class of that size. Parents graduating alongside sons and daughters, people getting their diplomas against great odds; feel-good stories fit for framing. Barry, the adviser, seemed to know them all. Walking up and down the hallways just before show time, she pointed out students and briefly described their paths to success.

“This is very sentimental for me,” Barry said. “I know all of these faces.”

Sentimental for a lot of people, as it turns out. The stands were crammed full of family and friends of the graduates. They hooted and hollered and took pictures all night long.

“Without your support,” Christopher McCormick, president and CEO of L.L. Bean, told the proud, buzzing crowd, “their stories would have had different endings.”

McCormick addressed the graduating class with a speech that was both stirring and reflective. He recalled his graduation 34 years ago from a college in Connecticut. He had no idea he would rise to the top position with L.L. Bean, he said. He simply set out to do his best and to enjoy it as much as possible.

“The only way to do great work,” he told the class, “is to love what you do. Seeking out the higher purpose in your work is now up to you.”

And then it was time. One by one, the students rose from their chairs and came forward to collect their diplomas. The future engineers, mechanics, nurses, teachers, architects and business leaders were set free from the college and sent out to make their marks.

“You will never know,” Knapp told them, “how much you have enriched the lives of the faculty and staff of the college.”

As for Langley, she plans to pursue a career in adult education and training at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. And when you give it some thought, maybe her daughter Sophia Grillo didn’t arrive three weeks early to hamper her mother’s graduating night. Maybe she just wanted to be around when it happened.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Langley said.

 


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