POLAND — “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

That was the message on a large blue-and-white banner that the Class of 2012 walked toward as they marched into the Poland Regional High School gymnasium Sunday afternoon for the 13th annual commencement ceremony and the start of their future.

Sporting silver flip-flops, purple glittered hats, sneakers, wedge heels, dress shoes and even a pair of work boots, 102 students from Poland, Mechanic Falls and Minot reflected on their past and looked toward their future before receiving their diplomas as graduates, while a service dog named Cheerio watched.

With senior Catherine Haley providing a humorous role as master of ceremonies, the 90-minute ceremony provided humor, nostalgia and life lessons to the students and other participants.

“This is only a stopping point on the road of life,” said Jason Power Jr., who along with Katrina Seeley welcomed their classmates to the graduation ceremony attended by hundreds of family and friends.

The torrential rains overnight gave way to cloudy but light rain conditions in the late afternoon. High School Principal Cari Medd joked that the rains and subsequent flooding were the most creative pranks every played by a senior class.

Medd, who was at her in-laws that morning helping to bail out a basement, almost didn’t make it to the commencement ceremony because of washed-out roads.

On a more serious note, Medd praised the work of School Board Chairwoman Mary Ella Jones for her work to bring “order from chaos,” during a school year which saw the resignation of two top school officials and the rejection of the school budget. Both issues were recently resolved, she said, in large part because of the dedication and long hours of effort by Jones.

Superintendent J. Michael Wilhelm welcomed the students, calling them leaders, courageous, hardworking and curious — attributes that will lead to their success as they go into the future, he said.

Salutatorian Ryan Szantyr said there are three lessons he learned during high school that he will never forget: everyone will use math every day in their lives, learning can happen anywhere and friends can come from anywhere.

In his keynote address, Ted Tibbetts relied on his summer work as a river guide in Northern Maine to remind students that they can take their memories with them but leave nothing but tracks.

Remember to make good decisions, he said.

Using her service dog Cheerio, who sported a school-blue kerchief  around his neck, as an example of good characteristics, valedictorian Emily Buell said students should remember to be themselves and show loyalty, keep going for whatever they want in life, listen to others and enjoy life with an open mind.

“We can take the lessons we learned here and move forward,” she said.

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