Adult education graduations tend to receive little attention.
This year, two rural programs will be thrust into the spotlight because Maine’s two U.S. senators have agreed to speak to graduates.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins

Sen. Angus King will give the keynote speech to adult education graduates at Spruce Mountain High School in Jay on May 31. A day later, Sen. Susan Collins will speak at the the adult education graduation at Leavitt Area High School in Turner.

The increased focus on adult education likely relates to Maine’s tight labor market, which means no potential workers can be taken for granted, according to Robyn Raymond, adult education director for the Spruce Mountain School District.

When Raymond learned King accepted her invitation to speak, she said she was “totally floored.”

“He’s always been a supporter of adult education,” Raymond said, “so it’s a good fit.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King

Likewise, Razell Ward, director of the SAD 52 adult education program serving Greene, Leeds and Turner, said she was excited that Collins will address graduates.

“Every year, we look to invite someone who has some impact on our state,” Ward said.

She invited Collins but thought it unlikely the senator would accept.

“I was very excited when she said yes,” Ward said. “We are very proud.”

Collins said she is proud to support continuing education programs and is looking forward to the graduation.

Adult education helps people overcome barriers and “puts them on the path to success in their workplaces,” Collins said in a prepared statement.

Maine is at its best “when we’re filled with lifelong learners,” King said in a prepared statement. “The graduates from Spruce Mountain embody that ideal. These are folks who have committed to continuing their education. They should be celebrated, and I’m happy to play my part in honoring them.”

King said he has met with countless business owners across Maine and hears the same refrain: “Our state needs more qualified workers.”

Adult education and other educational opportunities such as career and technical education are critical ways to make people ready for the workplace, King said.

Raymond said she and King attended a meeting three months ago at LaFleur’s Restaurant in Jay, where she and local business owners shared how adult education and local businesses work to come up with tailor-made courses to give workers the skills they need.

At the end of the meeting, Raymond told King about the May 31 graduation for the adult education program in the Spruce Mountain School District, and “how we have different people from all walks of life” graduating or getting certificates.

“He wanted to come back and meet those people,” she said.

Those graduates include Norman Gordon of Jay, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran who wanted to return to class.

“He took technology classes with us to get credits for his diploma,” Raymond said.

Other graduates include displaced Verso paper mill workers who took heating and ventilation courses that have resulted in immediate employment, Raymond said.

A class of 15 people studied to be medical assistants. That class has 100 percent job placement, Raymond said.

Lewiston-Auburn adult education programs are creating customized programs to help companies find workers, said Bill Grant, director of adult education for the Lewiston and Auburn school departments.

On Monday, seven people were honored for completing a construction course that taught them in the classroom and at on-the-job sites, Grant said. All seven have been offered positions with local companies.

Lewiston’s adult education graduation is June 6; Auburn’s is June 8.

The speakers at those ceremonies will be School Superintendent Bill Webster in Lewiston and Superintendent Katy Grondin in Auburn.

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