Graduate Heather Wheeler reaches for her diploma. The adult education graduation ceremony adhered to COVID-19 guidelines which meant Adult Education director Ray Therrien and RSU 9 superintendent Tina Meserve were not able to present the diplomas and certificates directly to the students. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal


FARMINGTON — The Franklin County Adult Education Learning Center awarded 18 high school equivalency diplomas and recognized six newly certified nursing assistants (CNA) on June 17, 2020, at the Narrow Gauge drive-in theater in Farmington.

“The staff at Franklin County Adult Education are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met,” class speaker Heather Wheeler said to families and friends watching the ceremony from their vehicles. 

The graduates had to complete their program remotely due to the pandemic as did all students throughout the Regional School Unit 9. Director Ray Therrien took a moment to acknowledge CNA instructor Lorna Collins for adapting the remainder of the hands-on nursing assistant program to online platforms. 

“She found ways to make this work,” Therrien said while gesturing for applause from the attendees to thank Collins for her ingenuity.


The graduates were seated on the drive-in’s platform stage, wearing masks and spaced out from each other by six feet. An adult education staff member was on patrol with a yardstick to ensure staff and students were maintaining a safe distance. 

The keynote speaker was Dawn Harris-Layton who also took advantage of Franklin County’s Adult Education Center for her high school diploma. As a 2020 graduate herself from the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF), Harris-Layton understood the struggle of completing an education program during a world health crisis. She urged the graduates to continue on with their momentum.

“We’ve heard a lot about perseverance, and I think we need to focus on that,” Harris-Layton said.

Graduate Sarah Ryan with her brother George Moore after the drive-in graduation ceremony.  Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

Graduate Sarah Ryan had no specific plans yet for going forward. She thought that may actually play to her advantage since so many other graduates have had to alter their future plans due to COVID-19.

“It’s just to complete it, and see where the road takes me. I might go back and do the CT (college transitions) program next,” Ryan said.

Graduate Isaac Cole was stripping off his gown and mask in the scorching sun after the ceremony and was eager for air conditioning from his friend’s car. He said that the biggest challenge was remaining engaged enough to complete his program. 


“You want your children to do better than what you did. I think everyone wants that,”Cole’s father, Mark Hamilton said with tears welling-up in his eyes. “There’s no words, I just can’t put it into words. I didn’t think it was going to happen; very proud. He worked hard for it. He would walk to school two miles in the winter, if he had to, if he missed the bus.” 

Taylor Howard of Industry had a carload of supporters, her grandparents, parents and her boyfriend enduring the heat to celebrate her achievement. Once the program transferred to remote learning, Howard said that a reliable internet connection became a serious issue, and she struggled to keep track of deadlines. 

“I feel stress-free because I don’t have to remember to do the work,” Howard said with a sigh of relief as she sought some shade under the hatch of a minivan.

Therrien directly addressed the students seated on the stage during his speech to emphasize that their achievements were no easy feat, especially during the pandemic. 

“You want to remember that you have inspired and impacted everyone that cares about you,” Therrien said while looking over his shoulder at the students. “So we do not take your accomplishments lightly today, especially in the most difficult and unprecedented of circumstances.”

Plans among the recent graduates include attending Central Maine Community College, Kennebec Valley Community College and entering the workforce.

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