WATERVILLE — They marched to the outdoor pavilion at Waterville Senior High School, donning cap and gown like typical high school graduates, except these men and women aren’t typical.
Many juggled full-time jobs, cared for their children, and spent long hours studying — for months and even years — in preparation for this event.
On Wednesday, 26 students — ages 17 to 51 — received their high school diplomas or high school equivalency certificates from Mid-Maine Regional Adult Community Education, which serves students in Waterville, Winslow, Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome, Sidney and Vassalboro. Seven graduates chose not to attend the in-person ceremonies.
As they marched, they were met with a crowd of more than 150 friends and family members who cheered them on.
Trudy-Ann Logan-Turbide, 35, was proud and happy to be receiving her high school diploma after dropping out of school in the 11th grade, getting married and raising four children.
She grew up in Jamaica where, in her junior year of high school, her best friend committed suicide.
“It was rough for me, and I couldn’t see how anything else mattered in that moment,” Logan-Turbide recalled.
She recounted her earlier life as she and her classmates gathered inside the school Wednesday to prepare for graduation.
After she dropped out, she came to the United States to visit her grandparents in Florida, she said. There, she met the man who would become her husband, and he was from Waterville. They raised four children and she was a stay-at-home mother. Two years ago, she enrolled in adult education classes here.
“I decided; it’s time for me,” she said.
But she was scared. Going back to school felt daunting.
“In my mind, I didn’t have a support system. My mom worked all the time. I struggled with thinking I could do it, but those amazing teachers. They had me crying one day because they really, really have our backs.”
Logan-Turbide said she had always wanted to be a nurse and when the coronavirus pandemic hit, she was able to take a CNA course and passed the test. She got a full-time job working at Northern Light Continuing Care Lakewood and plans to enter the nursing program at Kennebec Valley Community College in the fall.
She said she couldn’t put into words what Wednesday night meant to her.
“I’m sure proud of myself, because honestly, I didn’t think I could do it,” she said. “If my teachers didn’t say, ‘Trudy, you’ve got this, you can do this,’ I probably would have failed.”
Like Logan-Turbide, Fatima Khamees, 19, of Waterville, started taking adult education classes in 2019 and weathered the pandemic while studying subjects including math, science and English. She had come from Portland schools and was better able to learn in adult education classes rather than in a traditional high school setting.
“The teachers were really helpful,” she said. “They were with me, step by step, teaching me and making sure I was ready to take the tests. They helped me a lot; they really did.”
Khamees said she plans to enroll at KVCC to study early childhood education as she wants to become a teacher.
“I love kids,” she said.
Hannah Bard, director of Mid-Maine Regional Adult Community Education, praised the graduating students for their hard work and perseverance and for overcoming challenges.
“They chose to come in here, put in their time, wear their masks, do the crazy remote learning,” she said prior to the ceremony. “I’m very proud of them for the things they overcame and the things they did to be here tonight.”
Student Renee Reynolds welcomed fellow students, staff, family and friends, and she introduced attendees, including guest speaker Virginia Morey, a student in the Class of 2021, and Jamie Gola, also a classmate who gave the student address.
Waterville Mayor Jay Coelho, Bard, Waterville Schools Superintendent Eric Haley and Regional School Unit 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley also spoke during the ceremony.
Bard made a special presentation in recognition of student Selina Green, who died in April of COVID-19-related complications after giving birth to a her daughter. A framed photo of Green was displayed on a table in front of the audience.
“Selina worked hard for this diploma and to finish before her daughter arrived,” Bard said, her voice breaking.
Green’s mother, Regina, carried the baby girl as she walked to the pavilion to accept her daughter’s diploma.
Joining Logan-Turbide, Khamees, Reynolds, Morey, Gola and Green as members of the graduating class were Benjamin Belanger, Lance “Jacob” Cardosi, Garret Clark, Elizabeth Crouse, Josh Genness, Breyanna Haase, Melisa Manson, Storm Powell, Amanda Proctor, Caleb Quimby, Eli Solberg, Olivia “Oliver” Stuart, Jenna Szczepaniak, Laine “Alek” Thibodeau, Zachary Welch, Terrylynn Wentworth, Therese Wilbur, Breanna Winchester, Dayne Woodbury and Elijah Wright.