Maine Connections Academy celebrated its ninth graduation on Friday, June 2, with an in-person ceremony for nearly 100 students. Students, faculty and family members gathered at Merrill Auditorium in Portland to commemorate the milestone achievement.

A total of 93 students received diplomas. The class of 2023 featured graduates from as far south as Eliot to as far north as Fort Fairfield, according to a news release from the Scarborough-based online public charter school in Scarborough.

Zion Marsters of Gray was recognized as valedictorian. In his address to his classmates, he talked about their journey through high school, which started in the virtual classroom in the fall of 2019 – just before the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly introduced remote learning in all schools.

“We’ve made it here through so much,” he said.

Marsters acknowledged that graduating from high school is a major milestone, but there are more to come. “We have a race to run— let’s run it well,” he said.

Salutatorian Taylor Church of Lebanon thanked her parents and several role models in her speech. Drawing on her experience as president of the school’s National Honors Society this year, she talked about the importance of picking others up to achieve goals.


“Many people think of leadership as taking charge and bossing people around,” she explained. “Being a leader is helping your team up the ladder.”

Maine Warden Service Chaplin Kate Braestrup addressed the graduates as the featured guest speaker.

Braestrup joined the Maine Warden Service in 2001 and was ordained several years later, realizing a goal that was first surfaced by her late husband, Maine State Trooper Drew Griffith, who died in a car crash while on duty in 1996. She’s written several books, including a New York Times bestseller and appeared on Animal Planet’s North Woods Law.

Braestrup explained that her job as chaplain often involves bringing comfort and guidance to grieving families while game wardens search for missing loved ones or, in tragic cases, oversee recovery efforts.

Her son, she said, once described the role as “hugging sad strangers in the woods,” but she noted that there are also joyous moments at times, particularly seeing the impact that people have on their local communities during trying times.

Rather than share advice, Braestrup outlined her hopes for the class of 2023.


“I hope on your hardest days, you’re hugged and held,” she said. And in terms of future plans and jobs, she told the graduates, “Whatever that work may be, I hope you find joy in it.”

Nearly half of the graduates have committed to two- or four-year colleges. Many plan to pursue higher education here in Maine, with commitments to the University of Maine, Bates College and Colby College, among other institutions. Other graduates plan to join the workforce, receive vocational training, serve in the military or take a gap year.

The following students from central Maine are among the academy’s class of 2023*:

Androscoggin County:

Abigail Beaucaire of Greene, Dylan Bowen of Durham, Ella Caron and Khalid Hersi, both of Lewiston; and Karsyn Siegel of Wales.

Kennebec County:


Noah Bombria of Waterville.

Sagadahoc County:

Julia Bailey and Aryn Bisson, both of Bath; and Hailey Cunha of Richmond.

*NOTE: Not all students from the area may be included for privacy reasons.



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