Duncan McDougal of Hartland and Becca Kennett of Freeport both graduated Saturday from Thomas College in Waterville. Greg Levinsky/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — In many ways, this day actually was what Kristi Carlow envisioned.

A day of celebration. A day of relief. A day of joy for hundreds of Thomas College graduates.

While the coronavirus pandemic impacted most of the last two years at Thomas College and colleges across the nation, the 43-year-old Carlow crossed the red and white flower lined Alfond Athletic Center stage during the college’s 127th commencement ceremony Saturday afternoon.

“I’m excited to have it over with,” she said. “It’s been a lot of work doing it and having a family and full-time job.”

Kristi Carlow, 43, is the fourth member of her family to graduate from Thomas College. On Saturday, she received her bachelor’s degree in business administration. Greg Levinsky/Morning Sentinel

In 2007, father and son Carlows graduated from Thomas College. Walter Carlow, then 46, and his son, Christopher, then 22, marched across the stage. Makenzie Carlow, then a third-grader, predicted she’d graduate from the same school. In 2019, she graduated at just 20 years old with magna cum laude honors and a degree in business management. That was Thomas College’s last in-person graduation, some 736 days ago and followed by a virtual graduation in 2020.

“I didn’t think it would happen, and I was more sad for the traditional students,” said Carlow, who studied business administration. “It could’ve been my daughter.”

Graduates were allowed two guests at commencement, so Carlow’s husband and daughter attended. Her son lives in upstate New York.

Thomas College’s 2021 class included 163 undergraduate and 51 graduate students. The class of 2020 also was invited back. All attendees wore masks, and graduates sat with their two guests spaced out 6 feet apart from the next group.

On a picturesque spring day with a glistening sun and temperatures in the mid-70s, Becca Kennett and Duncan McDougal reflected on their senior years. As the pandemic raged, an in-person gradation was far from a sure thing.

Kennett wasn’t sure the class of 2021 would have an in-person graduation. Neither was McDougal, a Hartland native and double major in finance and sports management.

“I thought it would be all virtual,” McDougal said. “When this was announced, it was the best possible situation.”

A Freeport native and criminal justice major, Kennett credited the school with its efforts in turning an otherwise sour year into a sweet ending.

“Thomas has taken this year and been accountable,” Kennett said. “I was very ecstatic.”

Thomas College men’s basketball coach Deshon Gaither watched five of his players graduate, his first ever class at the school. All were first generation graduates.

“I’m just so happy to see them get here,” Gaither said. “What they’re doing is monumental. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Waiting patiently for graduation to begin, Mary Otul looked forward to watching her daughter, Lily Page, cross the stage. Otul’s daughter, of Cape Elizabeth, received her undergraduate degree in criminal justice.

“It’s exciting. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful,” said Otul, as she pulled up a video on her phone of her family offering congratulations for graduating that she filmed nearly two decades ago in preparation for this day. “It’s up, up and away from here.”

A 1996 Skowhegan Area High School graduate, Carlow went to college right away but stopped after three semesters when she found a job in her chosen field. Around the year 2004, she decided it was time to go back to school. Carlow tried a course at the University of Maine at Augusta but did not like it. So when her husband enrolled for his master’s at Thomas College, she took her first class there. For the next dozen or so years, Carlow balanced a course load, raising a family and a full-time position in the state of Maine’s finance department and later at Wakefield, Massachusetts-based Kelmar Associates.

Like everyone else in her household, Kristi Carlow’s turn to cross the stage as a Thomas College graduate came on May 15, 2021. No more balancing homework, tests, motherhood and a demanding career.

“It feels like I’m going to have a lot more time on my hands,” she said.

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