CASTINE — Commencement ceremonies are always a big deal, but Maine Maritime Academy’s 76th annual commencement last Saturday featured an all-star cast.
About 193 students marched at commencement, held in MMA’s Alexander Field House, including candidates for Associate of Science, Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees.
As usual, proud parents, grandparents, spouses and children and some miscellaneous family members and friends filled the building. The overflow crowd watched the proceedings on a live feed simulcast to the adjacent Margaret Chase Smith Gymnasium.
Among this year’s graduates were 184 Bachelor of Science degree candidates; three Associate of Science degree candidates in small vessel operations; and six students who received a Master of Science degree.
While the graduating students are the real stars of any commencement, this year’s degree candidates were treated to an address by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. He was introduced by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who spoke of her long connection to MMA.
She also spoke of her efforts in the U.S. Senate to provide funding for a new training ship for the academy, which she said was “my number one priority and that’s what I’m working on hardest.”
Collins said there is “substantial funding” for a new ship in President Trump’s proposed budget, but also that she is working to obtain the additional money needed to build a ship that would meet the academy’s needs.
Collins commissioned MMA’s current training ship, State of Maine, in 1997.
“It was wonderful to be part of this very joyous commencement,” Collins said after the ceremonies.
Introducing the guest speakers, MMA President William Brennan urged the graduates to participate actively in the world around them and shared “my greatest hope and dream” for the Class of 2019.
“People who make a difference get off the bench and get into the game,” Brennan said. “No commentator or critic ever changed a thing. Only those who act make a difference.”
Brennan’s remarks foreshadowed what Spencer told the graduating class.
He began his remarks saying that whatever polarization might exist in Washington, D.C., right now “when it comes to national defense, your Maine delegation … are focused laser-like on this issue and there is no partisanship.”
He also told the graduates that a member of MMA’s Class of 2004 was the tactical aircraft commander on the plane that carried Spencer from the nation’s capital to Maine.
The thrust of Spencer’s remarks was the importance of challenging assumptions and doing something about them.
“Keep an open mind and an open eye … speak up when you see a potential solution whether it’s your job or not,” the secretary said.
“Pursue and support an entrepreneurial risk-managed and risk-taking spirit … that is why you are here today,” he said. “Make it count. Roll up you sleeves, change things for the better.”
This year’s MMA graduating class included students from 36 states, with at least one from Alaska, as well as international students from Saudi Arabia, China and Jamaica.