For the past year, Kelsey Danforth worked 50-plus hours a week as the operations manager at an Auburn hotel. She also held down a work study job, kept up a full slate of college classes, parented a stepson-to-be and planned a wedding.

On Saturday, it paid off.

Danforth graduated with 116 other University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College students in an afternoon ceremony.

“They say it’s impossible to get this stuff done if you have a family and work full time,” said Danforth, 23, of Auburn. “It’s not impossible; it’s just really hard.”

Danforth’s degree was in arts and humanities. She studied for the first year at USM in Portland and spent the last three at LAC.

“I’m hoping to be able to use my degree to move forward and move up in the company (Marriott International),” Danforth said. “I have the opportunity to go anywhere in the world, but you had a have a degree to do it.”

She’s thinking Australia sounds nice, eventually.

In all, USM graduated 1,000 students Saturday, for the first time splitting graduation with ceremonies at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Costello Sports Complex Field House on the Gorham campus. The traditional site, the Cumberland County Civic Center, is under construction.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins spoke in the morning. Mary G. F. Bitterman, president of the Osher Foundation, spoke in the afternoon.

By graduating, LAC’s Mike Clarke of Bath reached his personal goal: a college degree by age 50. Clarke, a career firefighter and former state legislator, received his degree in leadership and organizational studies. It took seven years, with time off for campaigning and public office.

“It’s huge,” Clarke said. “I’m eligible for retirement in the fire service, I just turned 50 and here I am with my degree. I kind of cleared three or four components of my bucket list pretty quickly.”

Rebecca Graham, 39, of Edgecomb, said she began her degree at USM in Portland but switched to the Lewiston campus because she was drawn to that faculty. She called them mentors and friends. Graham plans to head next to graduate school at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland.

Sarah Ouellette, 26, of Madison hoped to put her new degree to work as a high school biology teacher. She was the first student to graduate from LAC’s new secondary certified teacher program.

She began her college career at the University of New England right after high school and left after two years.

“I’m really excited,” Ouellette said. “A lot of people leave college and don’t go back, so I’m kind of proud of myself in that regard.”

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Speakers’ words

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, at the University of Southern Maine’s morning graduation ceremony Saturday:

“A combination of joy, gratitude, hard work and resilience is more than a formula for personal success. It also is the best antidote I know to the rampant incivility that invades and poisons our society.

As we develop these positive qualities in ourselves, let us recognize and encourage them in others, including those with whom we disagree. We all must do our part to elevate the tone, and respect one another as part of our greater community.”

Mary G.F. Bitterman, president of the Bernard Osher Foundation, at USM’s afternoon graduation ceremony Saturday:

“You will be able to move Maine forward with your talent, energy and subject-matter expertise.

“To ensure the perpetuation of our democratic institutions, we must find ways to invest in all of our citizens, opening avenues of opportunity so that all may lead meaningful and productive lives that benefit the public good.”

Source: University of Southern Maine Office of Public Affairs

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