AUBURN — Clad in royal blue mortarboards and robes, 259 graduating seniors from the Lewiston High School Class of 2021 sat in plastic chairs Sunday morning on the tarmac at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport for the finale of their high school years.

“Although no one wants to dwell on the pandemic, it would be difficult to celebrate our accomplishments without talking about what we have overcome,” Katie Morin, president of the Class of 2021, said in her speech to graduates. “Our class has demonstrated an amazing ability to pivot, adapt and change. In the last year and a half, we navigated a global pandemic, the likes of which no one has ever seen before.”

Added Morin, who plans to attend Thomas College in Waterville this fall, “If we can adapt to changes, we can also be the change.”

Class of 2021 graduates became all too familiar with words, including pandemic, lockdown, social distancing and masking. They were also forced to learn greater resilience and determination, which Superintendent Jake Langlais emphasized in his speech. 

Graduating senior Savannah Leonard receives a hug Sunday from her art teacher, Deanna Ehrhardt, before the start of the Lewiston High School graduation ceremony at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Langlais commended the graduates as “the toughest class to ever graduate” from Lewiston High School. 

Prior to the ceremony, which began at 11 a.m., upbeat and nostalgic music blared from speakers. Some people wore masks, but most did not given it is no longer required.

Many of the graduates could be seen smiling and laughing with one another. Family and friends of graduates stood or sat in chairs on the grass surrounding the tarmac. 

The morning was sunny and breezy, which added to the ceremony’s upbeat tone.

“I’m just excited to have a bit of normalcy, because we haven’t had that in a while,” said Kate Bilodeau, a member of the Class of 2021, who will be attending the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston. “It’s really nice to see everyone. Today makes it all feel better, makes it all worth it.”

Some of the speakers during the ceremony noted how, despite the darkness of the pandemic, the class rose to the challenge.

“I know our class missed out on so many opportunities and experiences after last year was cut short, but even with that, our positive memories over the past four years shine through the dark times,” valedictorian Sydney Roy said in her speech. “From study dates and coffee runs to mental breakdowns and too many hours spent on TikTok, from pep rallies to cheering on your Blue Devils at sporting events, I am sure that we have all had moments that we will take with us into the future.”

Even something as simple as saying hello, Roy said, is something that can be a positive memory for someone else

Umbrellas provide shade for a few Sunday during the Lewiston High School graduation ceremony at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport in Auburn. The temperature was about 90 degrees when the ceremony began at 11 a.m. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Kayla McGee, the Class of 2021 adviser, also spoke of the class and its willingness to adapt to new plans and events.

 “Although COVID shifted many of our plans for senior year, we were still able to provide each senior with a ‘Senior Trip in a Box,’ raffle off some life-after-high-school items during graduation rehearsal and help to put on the 2021 prom,” McGee said. 

Julia Paquette, in her salutatory address, spoke of the high school experience as an adventure book with different pages for each year of high school. She noted how junior year, in particular, was “10 times harder” after the pandemic.

But, she continued, this made the class stronger.

“We dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s,” Paquette said, “and all of our choices have finally led us to where we are right now: Sitting in these chairs with our caps and gowns, ready to graduate.” 

Carolyn Brady, the morning’s keynote speaker and the current Miss Maine, left students with three pieces of advice: Chart your own path, celebrate your squad and remember that confidence is key. 

She also acknowledged the difficulty of being a high school student over the past year.

“This has certainly not been a traditional year, so the conclusion of this chapter of your story will indeed be nontraditional,” said Brady, the first African American Miss Maine and the first to serve two consecutive years.

Brady was right. The graduation ceremony was not traditional, as a small, blue plane and a jet came back to the airport during the event. Fortunately, this did not distract from the focus of the day.

Valedictorian Roy noted how the ceremony capped a school year full of challenges and surprises.

“Things will not always go exactly as planned,” she said. “You may grow older and wiser as each day passes. You may get a failing grade on a test. That’s life. C’est la vie.”

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to indicate the final quote in this story was from valedictorian Sydney Roy.

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