AUGUSTA — Allison Winship compared her time at the University of Maine at Augusta to the old oak tree that grew in her front yard at her childhood home in Houlton. 

Her tale is based on a metaphor her grandfather first told her, and is now one she shared with UMA classmates during the school’s 56th Commencement Exercises on Saturday morning. Her branches, she said, grew while taking a leap to study at the university. 

As she worked toward her Bachelor of Science degree in veterinary technology, her branches grew: When she moved from Houlton to study at UMA’s Bangor Campus, when her father died and as she made friends in a “new, strange city.” Her branches continued to grow.

“UMA challenged my own roots, it challenged my belonging, who I was and my upbringing,” Winship said. “Did I have what it takes?” 

Winship was chosen as the student speaker out of 551 classmates, and received the Kathleen Dexter Distinguished Student Award. 

The third largest university in the University of Maine System, family, friends and graduates filled the entire Augusta Civic Center.


Grace Hills, left, carries the mace Saturday as she leads University of Maine at Augusta President Jenifer Cushman, center, and the rest of the faculty into commencement ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In her first commencement ceremony as president of the university, Jenifer Cushman shared that the 2024 graduating class, which spans two campuses and eight regional centers, represents more than 200 towns and cities in Maine and residents hail from 29 other states across the country. 

The university has practiced distance, or online learning for decades, long before the pandemic and can reach students in areas across the state and country that might not have access to the Augusta or Bangor campuses.  

Josh Allen, 25, is from Falmouth and like other students in the aviation program, chose it because it is close to home and did not require him to travel across the country for a similar program elsewhere.  

Alyssa Hale, left, and Benjamin Lagasse wear matching “Star Wars”-themed messages on their mortar boards before Saturday’s start to the University of Maine at Augusta commencement ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center. The couple are big fans of the movie franchise and have plans to get married later this summer. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Allen already earned an associate’s degree in business administration and did not know if he wanted to become a mechanic for planes or fly them but made his decision to fly based on advice from his father. 

“My father asked me, ‘Would I rather be under the plane or in the plane,’” said Allen. 

Cushman said in her opening remarks that three in five, or 70% of Saturday’s graduates, are nontraditional university-aged students over the age of 25 and 64% of the graduates are the first to attend college in their family. 

Grace Leavitt, president of the Maine Education Association and the chosen commencement speaker, told the graduating class to value their education.  

She left them with a classic quote from Mahatma Gandhi, as she said she can’t think of a better way to address a group of new graduates: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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