Oxford Hills Comprehensive High class marshals Saige Winslow and Dakota Morgan direct their senior classmates Saturday during the graduation processional at Gouin Athletic Complex in Paris. The class has 220 graduates. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — It was a dark and stormy night. No, no no, it was not. It was supposed to be, but it was not.

The meteorologists had called for it to rain on Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s 2024 graduation ceremonies, but this time they were wrong.

It was a beautiful, albeit windy, night. It was almost as though the wind drove a wedge between the storm clouds, parting the skies over the Gouin Athletic Complex in South Paris so more than 220 seniors could be sent off to their adult lives by golden sunset.

While commencement speakers shared the usual inside jokes, vignettes of growing up together and their hopes for the future, Grover – the cute, furry little monster from Sesame Street – also made an appearance at the podium and was given a special seat alongside class salutatorian Meredith Harthorne during the ceremony.

In her speech, Harthorne recalled some of the literature she has read in school, classics produced by authors such as Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne and William Shakespeare.

But, she admitted, the book that had resonated with her during her high school career, was Jon Stone’s The Monster at the End of this Book, starring the aforementioned Grover.


As a child of six or so, for Harthorne every day closed out with a bedtime reading of the children’s book with her parents.

Harthorne knew how the book ends. She could recite it page by page. Yet, each evening she would get caught up in Grover’s angst and dread what was to come.

“I would be anxious and sweating – only to suddenly remember everything was just fine in the end and there was NO Monster,” Harthorne said. “At the time I did not fully understand the message in this book – but I loved the story. I could relate to Grover. I was Grover.”

Salutatorian Meredith Harthorne holds up her favorite childhood book, The Monster at the End of this Book, as she addresses her classmates about tackling fears of the future. Courtesy Caroline Burns

Admitting that through childhood she had been satisfied to live in her comfort zone rather than seizing challenges, Harthorne told her classmates and their families about how, as she started freshman year at OHCHS, she resolved to seek out opportunities that were not comfortable.

She went out for new sports that she had never played before, joining new teams, pushing herself to master lacrosse, track and Nordic skiing as she formed new relationships and racked up confidence.

“With every new situation and struggle that I worked through, I grew as a person,” Harthorne said “… I found that as I reached goal after goal, the Monster never appeared. Countless stressful situations came and went…I realized that the distress I allowed myself to feel was the true Monstrosity! I finally recognized I had been Grover.


“I suspect that you too have had to overcome your own internal monsters,” she told her classmates. “They prevent us from taking new jobs and trying new things, meeting new people, traveling, and getting out of our comfort zone. They allow us to fear the unknown as we graduate and move on to the next phase of our lives. The monsters can hold us back and we need to embrace this reality so we can turn the page, move on, and keep walking down our roads.

“I know I’m done worrying about the Monster at the end of the book.”

Harthorne wrapped up her remarks and summoned her best friend, valedictorian Madelaine Miller, to share her graduation speech.

But Miller did not come up with just prepared words. She presented Harthorne with a Grover doll.

“Here we can see that Grover is not the monster that we all create in our heads,” Miller announced. “He’s actually quite lovable. I chose not to wait to come up to the podium because everyone needs support to overcome their monsters, and we have been that for each other.”

Miller continued with the theme about overcoming the internal monsters that can threaten achieving goals. She recounted the stress of learning multiplication tables in fourth grade only for math to become her favorite subject.


Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s valedictorian and salutatorian for the class of of 2024, Madelaine Miller and Meredith Harthorne. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

She confessed the guilt she had felt as the pitcher in a sophomore playoff game when the opposing team won because she allowed the batter to walk when bases were loaded.

What helped her hold her head high that day she said, was seeing the incredible support the team had off the field, Vikings spectators that had traveled two hours to watch and outnumbered the home crowd to cheer them on.

“I will never forget that moment, but more importantly that in the Oxford Hills we can count on community support to help us keep the monsters at bay. This is something that I took for granted until then, but now I will always appreciate it.”

Like Harthorne, Miller too is stepping out on her internal monster as she moves toward the next chapter of her own story.

“Over the past four years I, too, have planned, analyzed, and over-thought just about every aspect of my life,” she said. But although enrolled at Bates College in Lewiston this fall, Miller will prioritize the experience over specific studies and tracks and is going in with an undeclared major.

“For the first time in my life, I am starting something without a plan, and I am incredibly proud of that. I’m working not to stress about my future, and let it unfold the way that it’s meant to.”


And then, keynote speaker and recently retired OHCHS educator Brewster Burns spoke. Always the teacher, he delivered a gut punch of a lesson to this year’s graduates on the value of friendship.

Being an English teacher, the lesson was taught through metaphor.

And Burns’ metaphor? A middle-aged rite the class of 2024 will hopefully not experience for decades: the colonoscopy screening.

Brewster Burns, keynote speaker at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s 2024 graduation ceremony. Daughter Caroline Burns, bottom left, served as event photographer. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

While the details of Burns’ (past and recent) colonoscopies will be not be reported by the Advertiser Democrat, we can divulge that after suffering through one, he was not keen when his doctor informed him it was time to have his second.

“My doctor said that a colonoscopy was probably better, so I said, okay, and he said, ‘call and schedule it soon,’” Burns told 220 seniors, their extended families, and friends. “So there it sat in my head. This thing in the future that I did not want to do. And I worried about it. And worried about it. And did nothing.”

With that, Burns got to the point of his story – the past, the present and the future.


Not wishing to repeat the agony of his past procedure, Burns stalled. “Worry makes action in the moment difficult.” He told the crowd.

To face his difficulties, he called on what he refers to as his Accountability Buds, friends Pete Toohey and Charlie Yancy. In the present, in this situation, his buds would make sure he followed through on scheduling his colonoscopy. If he did not, he would have to fork over $50 to each of them.

With the choice for his future either parting with $100 or scheduling a dreaded procedure, Burns held onto the cash, scheduled his appointment, and was rewarded with a clean bill of health.

Life lesson foreshadowed, Burns continued with an assignment for his seniors.

“We’re going to use this moment to make your life better,” he said. “Get your phone out. Identify someone who will hold you accountable – it could be a parent or a friend. Now, identify exactly how much money it is going to take for you to get this thing done, or to stop doing this thing.

“It could be as small as a dollar. If it’s a colonoscopy it may be $50. Now text that person and promise to get this thing done, or to stop doing something, by a certain day. Then tell them how much you will pay them if you do not follow through. Now. Do it.”

Burns paused as 220 students did as he said, maybe the first time an educator has told an entire student body to stop listening and instead use their phones.

“I will leave you with this,” he said. “None of this is magic. It’s not easy to live in the moment and use it in the right way.

“But with the help of our friends and family, we can let the past and the future help us to use the present moment to make our lives better.”

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