AUBURN — As more than 100 Poland Regional High School students prepared to graduate Friday night, it was nearly impossible for anyone to forget it was happening at an airport. 

Behind the parking area, as friends and family of the graduates huddled in and around their cars, a full-size plane loomed over all. 

Around the stage, smaller airplanes were parked here and there, near bland hangars, and who could overlook that graduation was happening in the middle of a runway at Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport? 

You could hardly fault a few of the night’s speakers from incorporating the airport theme into their speeches. 

“In your wildest dreams,” school Superintendent Kenneth Healey said, “did you ever think your graduation would be held at a working airport?” 

Healey went further, describing the lives of his students in terms of departures and arrivals. 


“If graduation is anything,” he said, “it is most definitely a departure. A departure from childhood to adulthood. A departure from high school to real life. And a departure from the comfort and safety of your families and homes to people and places unknown. 

“I wish that all your life departures and arrivals are timely, safe and happy occasions. Your departure to the future begins by marching across this day.” 

Others noted how the students, like so many others around the nation and world, finished their high school careers under the strange, often-unpredictable restrictions of a global pandemic. 

“You have shown resilience and grit and determination in a year that could have sucked all the motivation right out of you,” said PRHS Principal Cari Medd. “You survived school and a pandemic.” 

Senior Sophie Patenaude, the student body president, described the high school experience in terms of a pre- and post-pandemic world. 

“The way I see it is that the class of 2021 has had two entirely separate high school experiences,” she said. “Freshmen-sophomore year and junior-senior year. Most of us will look back more fondly over those first two years. But I believe that both experiences have given us opportunities to change, grow and learn in vastly different ways, important ways.”


The first part of their high school careers, she said, taught students how to have fun. 

“We learned to laugh. We learned to love,” Patenaude said. “Part two of high school taught us how to grieve. We learned how to be quiet. We learned to wait. We learned to worry.” 

As the students awaited their diplomas, hundreds of friends and family members were gathered around in a drive-in movie style arrangement. Some sat in their cars, others in lawn chairs. A few sprawled out on the warm pavement. Everyone, especially the students, seemed to be aware of the strangeness of the ceremony imposed by the pandemic.

“Looking back at our high school careers, not everything went as planned,” said Dakota Balkir, in his salutatory address. “It’s quite obvious that this year has been abnormal for all of us, parents and teachers included. I mean, look at us, we’re graduating at an airport instead of our own gym. This is just the finale of one of the most confusing senior years in history.” 

Class valedictorian Miranda Maung told her classmates they had not merely survived the trials of COVID-19, but they had learned from and grew stronger as a result of the difficulties. 

“We had fun,” Maung said, “and didn’t let a pandemic beat us.” 

The night’s keynote speaker was Lindsay Lehr, a 2003 graduate of the school. Lehr advised the class to never let talk of “privilege” change the way their approach their lives and to never stop being joyous, youthful and creative. 

Lehr has done plenty of exciting and productive things in the 18 years since her graduation from the school, she said. But life still has a way of throwing her a surprise or two. 

“I never imagined,” she told them, “that I’d be giving a graduation speech at an airport.”

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