AUBURN — Oak Hill High School principal Marco Aliberti was introduced to the Class of 2021 when they were seventh graders.

Monday night, the former Oak Hill Middle School principal had the pleasure of watching those same 75 students graduate with diplomas in hand on a breezy and steamy Monday evening at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.

“It is a class near and dear to my heart,” Aliberti said. “I have been at Oak Hill High School for five years. I only had a year under my belt before these kiddos came up and I actually knew them. 

“I have seen them grow from the time that they were seventh graders till they obviously graduated from high school, and they are just an amazing group. The nice thing about working at Oak Hill High School is you know all of the kids. It is part of being in a small town.

“They look to you for support, too. I am not just the principal in my office. I am somebody they know on a daily basis.”

Riley Worth, who graduated Summa Cum Laude, focused the opening of his address to his classmates on the ravages of COVID-19.

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“With that in mind, I would like to focus our attention on the undeniable fact that, as we sit here today, the United States is without nearly 600 thousand brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles,” said Worth, who is heading to the University of Southern Maine to study political science. “As a nation we have lost doctors, nurses, firefighters and police officers. And as a united world in suffering, we have lost the ability of a family gathering, a goodbye embrace or a simple party with friends.”

His parting advice to his classmates is to find their passion in life.

“Don’t go to college because society says that is the only option to become successful. Go because you see real opportunities to better yourself, or simply accept that college is not for you,” he said. “And lastly, don’t take a job because the paycheck will bode well for the thickness of your wallet. Take the job because you have an undeniable passion for it. After all, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Graduates line up Monday at their seats at the Auburn Lewiston Municipal Airport for the Oak Hill High School graduation. Graduations have been held outside this season in an effort to protect students, many of whom have not yet been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Autumn Chadburn, who also graduated Summa Cum Laude and is bound for the University of Maine, spoke about the swift passing of time and about personal growth.

“Eight years ago, we all created emails ending in [email protected],” she said. “Back then, in 2013, 2021 sounded like a futuristic made up year, and while it still felt like we would be in school forever, this was the first time we became aware of our impending graduation. 

“In these past four years, we have all accomplished, learned and grown tremendously; we leave high school behind as different people than we were when we walked in. And as we contemplate the changes we’ve experienced in this short yet formative amount of time, we face new change ahead of us.”

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Arianna Johnson, who is a musician, will be attending Central Maine Community College to earn a degree in education. She said it is time to move on even though starting anew will be challenging.

“I am excited, a little nervous but not for any particular reason,” Johnson said. “It is graduation, and all I have ever known is school. So just starting something new feels weird.”

Xavier Mason is looking forward to studying precision machining at CMCC.

“I am part of the rock band so we are actually going to be playing,” Mason said. 

Graduates walk past a slideshow Monday for Oak Hill High School graduation at the Auburn Lewiston Municipal Airport. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Jonathan Stinson is forgoing college and is seeking a job with furniture-maker Thomas Moser.

“It feels like graduating from eighth grade again,” Stinson said. 

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Science teacher Julie Boucher said the easing of coronavirus restrictions as the virus was abating was a welcomed relief.

“We are together finally,” Boucher said. “We are outside and families can gather. I think it is really special. They have gone through a very tough year. We have been hybrid most of the year, and I think this class showed a lot of perseverance, a lot resilience, adaptation. They have been through a lot of change.

“I think even the pre-graduation activities were really special and we were able to come together a little bit more than last year.”

For Aliberti, his pride in the Class of 2021 was obvious.

“Like any graduation, it is a celebration of a number of things — (including) a celebration of 13 years of public education,” Aliberti said. “But it is also a celebration of kind of leading out of working through a difficult year in education — well, I would say in the world, if you will. The kids have been amazing as far as their flexibility and understanding in working through whatever has faced them. I think this is the icing on the cake at this point in time.

“It is nice to get together, knowing that the kids have worked extremely hard over the past 13 years of their academic career. They are going to go on to do some pretty amazing things. That’s beauty of knowing these kids.”

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