UMaine graduates urged to pursue their goals and dreams — even if they seem out of reach

Old Town native and NASA manager Bridget Ziegelaar told University of Maine’s newest graduates to have faith in themselves, trust their potential, and not abandon dreams and goals because they seem out of reach.

“Although I had been fascinated by outer space since I can remember, I often saw my goal of working in the aerospace field as unattainable,” said Ziegelaar, addressing the 217th Commencement ceremonies May 11 at her alma mater. “Unable to see a credible road that would lead from Old Town to NASA, I had all but abandoned that idea when I graduated from high school. Fortunately, I had a teacher who believed in my ability and helped give me the confidence I needed to pursue my dream.

“He wouldn’t let me give up on seeking my destination just because I lacked directions to get there,” Ziegelaar said. “Twenty-three years ago when I was sitting where you are now, I never imagined being back here under these circumstances.”

Ziegelaar, the operations manager for NASA’s International Space Station Research Integration Office, said UMaine gave her “the foundation I needed to be successful in my chosen field.”

“I can honestly say that the four years I spent at the University of Maine were some of the best years of my life,” said Ziegelaar. “They have propelled me farther than I ever thought possible. I have spent decades now working side by side with brilliant people from the best universities in the country, and I have never, not once, felt less educated, less prepared or less capable than anyone else. That is a testament to the outstanding programs at the University of Maine.

“What makes UMaine so special is what hasn’t changed since my time here; the values — kindness, respect, integrity, and a love of teaching and learning forever represent this university and are instilled in all those who go here.”

More than 1,700 undergraduate and graduate students, including upward of 40 doctoral candidates, participated in UMaine Commencement ceremonies May 10–11 in Alfond Sports Arena.

The Graduate School Commencement for master’s degree and certificate of advanced study students was May 10, with 2,000 family members, friends and colleagues in attendance. The Graduate School Commencement address was by alumnus and inventor Doug Hall, founder of Eureka! Ranch.

Nearly 10,000 spectators attended the 217th Commencement ceremonies for doctoral candidates and bachelor’s degree students at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. May 11.

Florence Reed of Surry, founder of Sustainable Harvest International, received an honorary degree in the morning ceremony.

Also honored were valedictorian Drew Brooks of Lyman, Maine, and salutatorian Ana Eliza Souza Cunha of Orono. Brooks was a double major in microbiology and music, with a minor in molecular biology. He received two bachelor’s degrees — one in microbiology, and one in music. Souza Cunha, a biology major with minors in neuroscience and psychology, and a concentration in pre-medical studies, received a bachelor’s degree in biology. The Honors student also was the Outstanding Graduating Student in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture.

Like Ziegelaar, the 2019 Distinguished Maine Professor Sandra Caron also talked about the difference one person can make. In her address, Caron noted that “it’s easy to forget what power we have to change the lives of others, and the influence those we admire have on us.”

“At any given moment, someone is looking up to you, following your example and taking your words to heart,” said Caron, a professor of family relations and human sexuality, and UMaine alumna. “Every day, you have the power to lift that person up. The value of our lives doesn’t come from our degrees, the money we earn or the size of our house. It comes from using the influence we have for good, in lifting others up so that they can do the same.”

Caron was recognized at the President’s Faculty Recognition Luncheon May 11, along with three Presidential Award winners: Susan McKay, RiSE Center director and professor of physics, the 2019 Presidential Public Service Achievement Award; Jennifer Tyne, a lecturer in mathematics, the 2019 Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award; and Jasmine Saros, professor of paleoecology in the School of Biology and Ecology, and associate director of the Climate Change Institute, the 2019 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award.

Videos of the Graduate School Commencement Ceremony May 10, the Morning Commencement Ceremony May 11, and the Afternoon Commencement Ceremony May 11 are online.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745