Photo courtesy of USM

By: Haley Hersey, Staff Writer

Saturday May 8, 2021 at 9 a.m. is the 141st Commencement ceremony for the University of Southern Maine. Finals week quickly approaching signifies the end of the semester and the end of a uniquely trying school year. Graduates have managed to complete another academic year through a pandemic. 


Dean of Students, Rodney Mondor, explained that commencement this year would be similar to last year, however, the program schedule will be the same as years past: Welcome, Anthems, Honorary Degree Recipients, Student Commencement Speaker, Commencement Speaker, Distinguished Professor, Scrolling of Names and Closing. 


“We have potentially over 1300 graduates and the virtual Commencement is the best way to ensure all our graduates are recognized equally,” commented Dean Mondor in respect to mandated guidelines.


Furthermore, USM plans on recognizing both the class of 2020 and 2021 during Homecoming 2021. More information on that event is to come. 


In regards to crossing the stage and having professional photos taken, Dean Mondor shared seniors can sign up for a slot on May 4 or 5 to do so. “This event will be streaming live so family members will be able to watch from home.” 


Ibram X. Kendi, best-selling author, and national anti-racism thought leader, will deliver the keynote address. Graduating human biology major, Grace Muheto, will deliver the student commencement address. The University’s newest Distinguished Professor award is being presented to Professor of English and Chair of USM’s Department of English, Dr. Shelton Waldrep. Multiple noteworthy individuals will be recognized with an honorary doctor of humane letters. 


After reflecting on her four years at USM, Muheto realized she “was not really involved in many activities or took on any leadership role or else at USM. When the pandemic hit, I came to regret my decision. It hit me that I was going to graduate without leaving my mark at USM.”

Prompted by her longing to make an impact, she responded to the email offering students to apply to be the student speaker at graduation. 


Muheto was expecting a rejection when she got the call due to the tone of the woman on the line’s voice but was wrong. “I literally jumped out and started screaming thank yous. It was so unbelievable. I couldn’t believe that I went for something and got it. It was one of the most joyous days of my life.”


“I hope that people hear and take to heart what I have to say,” Muheto continued, “I hope to inspire others to get out of their comfort zone and make sure their voices are heard. Life is too short to let fear get in the way of what one can accomplish.”


As for the future, Muheto is considering medicine, psychology, humanitarian work, or a combination of all three for a career. She is taking a year off to “reflect, pray as well as expand my connections in all those fields listed. I believe that God will tell me exactly what I am supposed to do with my life.”


Graduating senior, Caroyln Graves, who double majored in communication and media studies, thought the format of a virtual commencement was smart. Graves thoughtfully shared, “We do not have enough people vaccinated at this point to be able to have an in-person commencement safely. While I am a little disappointed that we can’t have an in-person ceremony, I wouldn’t have participated in one at this time anyway. My parents are a little older and I wouldn’t want to risk having them come to commencement and get sick.”


Raúl D. Gierbolini, another graduating senior who is pursuing his Masters in Public Health (MPH), is saddened by the lack of an in-person celebration. He elaborated, “It would have been good to have my family at my graduation but at least we will [be] able to celebrate when I’m home in Puerto Rico.” 


Gierbolini also wished more could have been done because “we are at a different time than last year when COVID-19 started. I think we deserve more especially having been succeeding at school even through COVID-19 times. To be completely honest if they are not going to spend as much money for graduation as they normally would I would love a sort of monetary return at least.”


The public is able to watch the virtual commencement ceremony by visiting on May 8. The link to watch will be available starting at 8:50 a.m. on the website, the event starts at 9 a.m. 


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