As 254 graduate from Thomas College, at least one finishes debt-free in just three semesters

WATERVILLE — Sophie O’Clair is not your typical college graduate, by any stretch of the imagination.

She received an associate degree in arts and sciences from Thomas College before she even graduated from high school and after that, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Thomas in just three semesters, debt-free.

“I actually entered my freshman year at Thomas and was technically a junior because I had about three years of college done,” O’Clair said Tuesday. “I had 78 credits before I got to Thomas.”

O’Clair is one of 254 Thomas students who received degrees Saturday at Thomas’ 128th commencement ceremony held in a steamy Harold Alfond Athletic Center on the West River Road campus where temperatures outside exceeded 90 degrees. About 2,500 students, faculty, families and friends packed the center for the event, hosted by Thomas President Laurie Lachance.

Sophie O’Clair was one of 254 students to graduate from Thomas College on Saturday. The Fayette resident does not like to drag things out as she earned her associate’s degree from Thomas before she graduated from high school, and adds a bachelor’s degree after only three semesters. Courtesy of Sophie O’Clair

Though O’Clair, who graduated magna cum laude was not present because she was on a cross-country road trip. She explained earlier in the week how she was able to take dual enrollment classes at Thomas through the Pathways Program while a student at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. She also took University of Maine courses and earned her associate from Thomas while still in high school.

She commuted an hour to Waterville four days a week from her home in Fayette to earn her bachelors. Her parents de ella, both educators who instilled in her the importance of graduating from college with little to no debt, built an apartment for her in their basement, paid for her gasoline to commute to college and provided her food, with the caveat that she pay her college tuition.

During summers, O’Clair worked three jobs totaling about 70 hours a week, and she worked part-time while in college. Her jobs for her included working in a retail setting, teaching yoga, working as a behavioral health professional and taking care of her great grandmother on overnights.

“My parents helped in so many ways,” O’Clair said Tuesday. “I was so lucky to have two parents helping me with school work and keeping me fed. It was pretty awesome.”

She plans to return to Thomas in the fall to earn a master’s in business administration with a focus on project management and after that, she hopes to pursue a PhD in psychology from the University of Maine. Her goal of ella is to develop curriculum and teach sex education to not only educators and caregivers, but also to those with special needs who live in group homes or attend day programs — those who do n’t have access to education, she says, and are at a risk for sexual harm.

O’Clair credited her high school and Thomas experiences with influencing her to enter her preferred field and offering creative ways for students to earn credits while holding jobs. Thomas also offers scholarships, as well as programs that help fund training opportunities to enhance their resumes and degrees, according to O’Clair.

“Thomas was actually a really awesome place and I think they understand the fact that most, if not all, the students have jobs,” she said. “They’ve been super supportive. My professors are amazing.”

At Thomas Saturday, Greg Powell, executive chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation and CEO and president of Dexter Enterprises LLC, a wealth management firm, gave the commencement address.

Thomas College graduates listen Saturday as Gregory W. Powell delivers the commencement address at Thomas College in Waterville. Michael G Seamans

Powell praised the students for persevering through a pandemic and facing many challenges. He said nearly 60% were the first in their families to attend college, many were working one or more jobs and some entered Thomas with no parents to love and support them. The class raised a scholarship fund in honor of Antonio Martinez, a member of the Thomas baseball team who died in a vehicle crash right after graduation last year; class members also raised money for Haitian refugees, among other activities, according to Powell.

“You have been tested and you have passed with flying colors,” Powell said to loud applause.

I have offered several pieces of advice, including that once the graduates leave Thomas, they seek out, build and nurture relationships with others. I have advised them to look outward to find themselves.

“Look outward to find how you can help, and act on what you see,” Powell said. “When you do, you will find yourself and change the world.”

Rajhan Munnings, of South Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands, was the undergraduate speaker. I have received a bachelor of science in business administration. He asked fellow students to thank and cherish their parents for the sacrifices they made to ensure their children were able to graduate.

Thomas College graduate Rajhan Munnings prepares for commencement ceremonies Saturday at Thomas College in Waterville. Michael G Seamans

“Parents, give yourselves a pat on the back for taking us to our first day of school and guiding us all the way to our last,” he said.

Graduate speaker was Nathaniel White of Waterville, who received a masters of business administration Saturday. He said pursuing a masters is an immense undertaking and requires a lot of work.

“We should all be proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said.

Honorary doctor of humane letters degrees were conferred on Powell, Charles W. Hays and Donna Loring, as well as posthumously, to H. Allen Ryan.


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