PORTLAND — The University of Southern Maine celebrated its 137th commencement ceremony on Saturday with more than 900 graduate and undergraduate students marching across the Cross Insurance Arena stage following remarks by award-winning journalist David Brancaccio.

In an address that referenced Star Trek, video games and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the public radio and TV host challenged graduates to think critically, ignore limits, engage the future and be kind, according to a USM written statement.

“Don’t shortchange yourself,” said Brancaccio, who grew up in Waterville. “Beware those who sell you short. Watch out for fake being peddled as real, the short con. And don’t be shortsighted.”

According to the statement, Brancaccio’s remarks punctuated a three-hour-long ceremony that also featured student commencement speaker Hawo Mohamed, who talked about her family’s flight from Somalia, their adjustment to Maine and her success as a student.

“We landed in Maine, a foreign, cold place, filled with very loud and very energetic people,” Mohamed said, according to the statement. “Our journey as new immigrants to the United States began in 1995, and 22 years later, I am standing here today, with my cap and gown, as a college graduate.”

Mohamed, a health sciences major, talked about efforts among students to cherish both diversity and commonality.


“We all have a common theme,” she said. “We grew to understand that the path to wisdom not only includes gaining knowledge, but also being honest, thankful and humble.

USM President Dr. Glenn Cummings presented Brancaccio and civil rights lawyer Mary. L. Bonauto each with an honorary doctor of humane letters from the University of Southern Maine, according to the statement.

Sam Collins, chairman of the University of Maine System board of trustees, praised Brancaccio’s work as the host of American Public Media’s “Marketplace Morning Report” and the ongoing work by Bonauto, the civil rights project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. In 2015, Bonauto successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the historic case Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide

“Mary, in a society that appears to be increasingly less civil and tolerant of diversity in lifestyle and opinions, I applaud the work that you do on behalf of individuals that otherwise would not have an advocate,” Collins said. “And David, I can’t begin my day without hearing the rest of the numbers on NPR from a fellow Mainer and cyclist. You both enrich the lives of others and set a standard of excellence to which every graduate should aspire.”

USM Provost Jeannine Diddle Uzzi presented student Lauren Lessard of Lewiston with the Senior Husky Achievement Award for leadership.

“Lauren is a compassionate yet incredibly driven young professional who truly gets the best out of those she associates and/or works with,” Uzzi said, according to the statement. “This keen ability helps foster collaboration and inclusion and it truly helps contribute to great team success, regardless of what environment she is in.”

USM President Dr. Glenn Cummings shakes hands with Tonya Bailey-Curry of Lewiston. Bailey-Curry graduated with a master’s degree in social work.

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