2020 Award Winners


  • Outstanding Graduating Senior in Journalism, Liz Theriault
  • Outstanding Graduating Senior in Media Studies is Kira Barra
  • The Raymie McKerrow Award: Distinguished Undergraduate Student in Communication & Journalism, Mari Smith
  • Wofford Gardner Award: Outstanding Academic Achievement in Communication, Byron Winslow
  • Brooks Hamilton: Spirit of Excellence Award and Outstanding Senior in CMJ, Ali Tobey 


  • Outstanding Grad student excellence in Research and creative activity, Kevin Duffy
  • Outstanding MA Student, Tim Rocha
  • College of Liberal Arts and Sciences TA Award, Jaquel Eley
  • Department of Communication and Journalism TA Award, Tabitha Boze

Please see below for congratulatory notes for our award winners and a concluding note from the Chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism, Dr. Paul Grosswiler. You can also see a list of past awardees here: undergraduate and graduate.


This year’s Outstanding Graduating Senior in Journalism is Liz Theriault. Liz’s achievements shine in both the classroom and the range of journalism related activities in which she is involved. In the classroom, Liz raises the standard of excellence for all of her peers in part because she is so deeply committed to her own education and learning process. She makes the most of every academic opportunity because she is genuinely invested in learning. For example, her final research poster in Communication Research Methods, shared results from a pilot study she conducted to understand media communication in online activism and social justice. This poster was of such a high quality that it has become part of an archive that will help future students see what is possible in this project.

Liz’s interconnected commitment to learning and to social justice influenced the honors thesis research she conducted as an undergraduate. Her thesis research focused on the #MeToo movement, a topic that spoke to her desire to not just make a difference in the world, but understand how social movements are made, evolve, and ultimately impact society at large. As with her work as a journalist, Liz approached her research with enthusiasm, a dedication to detail, and a desire to understand.

Liz’s love for journalism is also apparent through her remarkable dedication to her work as Opinion Editor for the Maine Campus, the school’s student newspaper since 1875. Liz excelled in her leadership position, curating and editing a variety of perspectives on a range of topics of relevance and influence. In her position as opinion editor, Liz has taken on a variety of topics, from serious nationwide issues such as the naming of Indigeneous Peoples Day, and COVID-19 and its impact on students, to issues that hit closer to home, which have included UMaine’s green practices and student homelessness. In her work for the Maine Campus, Liz combines rigorous research with well-formulated arguments and a clear sense of social justice. One particular editorial article on “cancel culture” drew state-wide attention, with Liz receiving an invitation to join a panel of experts for an episode of Maine Public Radio’s Maine Calling. Liz’s journalistic talent was recognized by the Maine Press Association through its scholarship awards for 2020. The annual competition recognizes and supports excellence in student journalism across the state of Maine and Liz was one of its five awardees this year. 

This year’s Outstanding Graduating Senior in Media Studies is Kira Barra

There are some students you’d wish would never graduate; they’re a pleasure to have in class, they work hard, they are enthusiastic and engaged, and they ask questions that make other students and faculty stop and think. Kira is one of those students. Kira Barra joined the media studies program in 2017 from Germany. She came to the University of Maine on a basketball scholarship and has truly excelled in both our program and her athletic endeavors. 

Kira’s academic prowess first became apparent in CMJ 203 where she was one of the most inquisitive and hard-working students. In this course, Kira devised a very intriguing research proposal that connected her love for sports with her desire to understand human behavior through an experiment that investigated whether watching televised sports would increase people’s desires to play sports. Her literature review was an extremely thorough investigation of extant work into the topic, and her proposed methods section showed an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of experimental work. In the summer of 2019, Kira was able to put her research experience to practical use: She worked as a research assistant on a collaboration between UMaine and Michigan State into the relationship between self-control, challenging media content, and a preference for spoilers. Her work involved sorting through, selecting, and coding hundreds of movies, a daunting task that she took on and managed to complete so quickly, the joint labs weren’t even ready to process her data yet. This spring, Kira was able to bring together her writing, planning, and analysis skills for her capstone project. In this project, she used grounded theory to analyze tweets that used the hashtag #FakeNews to discuss the “kids in cages” scandal to understand whether the phrase “fake news” was used as a rhetorical weapon, or “flak” per Chomsky and Hermann’s Propaganda Model. Kira’s work was impeccable. She wrote up a thorough, well-organized literature review and did a phenomenal job implementing grounded theory analysis. Her paper received the top score in the class and was one of the best capstone papers produced this year. 

As a student, Kira is a joy to have in any class. She is always well-prepared, asks questions, and is clearly interested in moving beyond a mere superficial understanding of the concepts under discussion. Her dedication is truly amazing, especially considering she also plays on the university’s women’s basketball team. Even when the team was playing conference play-offs, ultimately winning the conference, Kira would turn in her work on time, and in one case, FaceTimed in from the bus on which she was traveling to a game so she wouldn’t have to miss class. Her dedication has become even more obvious during this current pandemic. As the University of Maine switched to online learning in the middle of March, and the country’s borders were closing, Kira made the last-minute decision to travel back home to Germany. In spite of the 6-hour time difference, the non-mandatory nature of our Zoom meetings, and the fact that she is now working, Kira still attended all meetings and finished at the top of the class. 

As a Forward/Center for the Maine’s Women’s Basketball team, Kira helped lead the team to two conference championships. A third victory was cut short by the current pandemic. The same dedication that all of us have seen in the classroom, to her work and her classmates was clearly visible on the court where she was often put in to pull the team out of a particularly difficult spot. Kira’s “less talk more action” approach that works so well in the classroom, ultimately also paid off on the court. 

To say we will all miss Kira is an understatement. And not just because she is a great student, but also because she is a wonderful, kind, and caring human being. In spite of her busy schedule, Kira always had time to stop in, say hello, and ask how you were doing. Kira is well-deserving of this award, and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors, knowing full-well she will succeed at whatever she puts her mind to. 

The Raymie McKerrow Award: Distinguished Undergraduate Student in Communication & Journalism is awarded to the Communication Senior who demonstrates outstanding citizenship on and/or off campus as well as academic excellence. We are pleased to recognize Marissa (Mari) Ann Smith with the 2020 Raymie McKerrow Award. It doesn’t take long working with Mari to know that she is truly an exceptional student and campus citizen. She excels in all of her classes because she brings a deep intelligence, genuine curiosity, and a commitment to addressing issues that matter to the world. There are many stories we could share that illustrate why she is so deserving of this award, and here are just a few that stand out. In her semester-long project in Communication Research Methods, Mari chose to focus on a question that she increasingly recognized as a core concern of communication studies: how can communication help cross difference and what does it mean to communicate across seemingly polarized differences in perspective? In addition to identifying one of the most important questions of our discipline, not to mention this moment in history, Mari has sought to address this question in ways that maintain the complexity of possible responses to it. In her project in this class, she interviewed someone who has a different political perspective than her own and yet she was able to listen to and respect this perspective in ways that helped her identify how difference is never a simple matter of one side versus another. Instead, as she described in her final presentation, our differences are shaped through contradictions and while in some ways we may seem far apart, in other ways our experiences and perspectives are quite close. It takes a unique form of intelligence and compassion to be able to do this work of listening to seek understanding, as Mari consistently demonstrates.

Her work in the classroom is also enriched by her creative pursuits in the arts, and especially her involvement in the acapella group UMaine Renaissance. In addition to her critical thinking abilities and respect for difference, Mari’s artistic side allows her to produce unique insights that contribute to her own learning as well as that of her peers. As another example, on the first day of Environmental Communication the class walked to the branch of the Penobscot River called the Stillwater. The course takes an engaged approach and focuses on water as a central topic. The group gathered on the banks of the river and told stories about their connection to rivers and water more generally. Mari’s stood out as a story unlike the others, as she described her involvement in this acapella group and said, simply, that water helps her sing.

The best part of our jobs as faculty members is working with students like Mari, and the hardest part is saying goodbye. Fortunately, we don’t have to say goodbye to Mari just yet, because she will be staying on with us to pursue her graduate work. She has already had such a positive influence on our academic community, and we are so looking forward to continuing to work with her in the years to come.

We are proud to announce Byron Winslow as the recipient of the Wofford Gardner Award: Outstanding Academic Achievement in Communication. This award is given to a graduating student majoring in Communication Studies, whose academic work has shown consistent excellence and scholarly promise. Byron’s exceptional grade point average is a recognizable marker of his scholastic accomplishments across CMJ courses, but here we would like to honor what makes this a meaningful achievement far beyond good grades. Byron stands out with his ability to apply academic knowledge and personal interests to make a difference in our departmental and campus culture. His work fully embodies our Department’s mission to “understand and improve the human condition” through the study of communication.

The importance of some of Byron’s studies is only coming into full focus right now, in this bizarre pandemic world we share with each other. For example, when he took Communication Theory, Byron researched the opportunities and limitations of online gaming to strengthen social relationships, particularly for people who struggle with those because of mental health challenges or social circumstances. This work arose from his own passion for video games, but transformed social stereotypes around gaming and gamers, focusing on community-building aspects. Through the lens of Walther’s Social Information Processing theory, Byron looked at the identities people create online and how those impact supportive communication and relationships in online environments. Beyond the obvious role of the topic in today’s context of physical distancing amidst COVID-19, Byron’s work demonstrated how careful engagement with existing research can guide both further scholarship and everyday communication practices toward improving sense of belonging and community.

Similarly, he was the very inspiring leader of a class team that focused their work on Co-cultural theory’s contributions to better understanding how marginalized groups participate in society. With Byron’s careful research as the backbone, the team prepared a series of podcasts that focused on examples of various communication strategies for interacting with dominant groups. He demonstrated he can facilitate others’ learning in a fun way, while building strong team dynamics and deepening his own knowledge of how communication can serve to “improve the human condition.”

Outside of the classroom, Byron has applied these lessons as the president of Lambda Pi Eta (LPH), the Communication and Journalism honor society (among other extracurricular activities he participates in). Even before stepping into this role in Fall 2019, he spearheaded and organized a pop-culture trivia night that brought together students from across campus and raised funds for LPH. As the president of the organization over the last year, he has masterfully brought together a team of people who organized a number of events to support students’ professional development and community-building, such as a career panel with CMJ alumni and recruitment professionals, a number of story-slams, and more trivia nights.

With his thoughtfulness, good spirit, creativity, and enviable bow ties, Byron has made a difference for his peers and for our Department as a whole. We cannot wait to see what he and others like him bring to the world outside of the University of Maine! Congratulations and good luck, Byron!

Alison Tobey exemplifies the Brooks Hamilton: Spirit of Excellence Award and Outstanding Senior in CMJ. This honor recognizes accomplishments by a Journalism senior at the University of Maine for tenacity, scholastic and professional excellence.Ali’s spectacular GPA is testimony to her academic work throughout her undergraduate studies at UMaine. The numbers speak for themselves, but they do not reflect what her instructors record: Ali’s bright participation and presence in class, consistent quality of work turned in, and superior work ethic made her such a joy and inspiration to behold. Ali is on the Dean’s List for Spring 2018, Fall 2018, and Spring 2019 — an affirmation of her talent and work.One of Ali’s finest and inspiring projects as a journalism major was for the ‘Journalism Across Platforms’ class. The final group project for this course mandated multimedia story-telling of a significant issue of our times. Ali was instrumental in her group producing a package on mental health among student athletes at UMaine. It is available here: https://cmj237project.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/the-journey-begins/

The report was picked up by professional mental health organizations in the New England area and was much publicized on social media platforms. It is not surprising that Ali facilitated this report with such professional finesse and personal empathy. Ali is a committed student athlete, a key member of UMaine’s women’s soccer team. In 2018, Ali was the recipient of the Scholar-Athlete Academic Achievement Award.

Ali has excelled in her journalistic work. She wrote for Maine Campus, the university’s independent student paper of record since 1875. This gave her the necessary training to launch into the world of professional journalism. She won a competitive screening contest and was hired by Bangor Daily News as a digital desk editor over Spring 2020. Ali excelled in her role there and got five stars from her supervisor for the work she put in.

Ali’s work was up-ended by COVID 2019 and this is how she responded with trademark tenacity: “I was also lucky enough to be able to work during the coronavirus pandemic. I was very nervous when we all had to shift to remote work, but it was in this time that I realized how essential local news really is. From livestreaming press conferences to morning updates, the Digital Desk plays a critical role in the BDN coverage of the virus. I consider myself lucky enough to have worked through part of this crisis.”

Ali will start her Master’s degree program in Global Policy at UMaine in Fall 2020. She will continue to follow her heart and play soccer for the Black Bears.

We are so proud of Ali and wish her all the very best.


Outstanding Grad Student, Excellence in Research and Creative Activity:  Kevin Duffy

Since arriving at UMaine in Fall 2016, Kevin Duffy has played a central role in supporting the “human dimensions” (HD) goals of the $20 million, 5-year National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR project Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) – namely, to understand perceptions of, attitudes toward, and decision-making about sustainable aquaculture in Maine. We recruited Kevin with the expectation that he would support several projects in this domain. Over the last three years, Kevin has worked tirelessly to exceed these expectations. As SEANET has now concluded, Kevin’s dissertation builds on the foundation of this HD research by directly engaging with two Maine communities to understand their views on coastal change. A novel application of photovoice and q-methodology and grounded in communication, the project takes an “engaged” approach to collect and interpret photographic data – that is, draws meaning and purpose from local voices, often overlooked by industry or government experts.

Faithful application of this approach requires intensive relationship-building, and over the last year and a half, we have witnessed Kevin’s heroic efforts to connect with community members in the communities surrounding the Bagaduce and Damariscotta Rivers – from organizing Sunday morning informational sessions, to literal door-to-door canvassing in small towns. His perseverance, maturity, and flexibility throughout this process have been admirable, especially as he continues to adjust his research process to account for the changes wrought by a global pandemic. By fostering relationships with local government and non-governmental groups, Kevin’s research will advance a departmental emphasis on understanding human-environment relationships through place-based research. Moreover, his research aligns with UMaine’s broader mission as a land and Sea Grant institution.

Kevin’s background in journalism and growing expertise in media content analysis, socio-ecological systems, and q-methodology has facilitated his impressive publication record; since arriving at UMaine, he has led or contributed to four journal articles in highly-ranked peer-reviewed outlets, produced a technical report on Maine news media coverage of aquaculture, and given six conference presentations at national and international venues. Two of these articles represent efforts fully directed by Kevin. For example, a recent article describing a novel approach to integrating spatial data in news media content analysis published in Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences involved a collaboration between six authors, including an undergraduate student and two faculty members at Bowdoin College. Kevin was indefatigable in seeing this effort to the finish line, even taking the initiative to organize a writing retreat to spur our progress.

A talented student, Kevin has been an asset to our department. He has emerged as a leader among our graduate student cohort, as he is active in the Graduate Student Association and in our Environmental Communication Community of Practice. He is eager to share what he is learning in his research to support the growth and development of other students and he does so in ways that are humble and genuinely supportive. Over the last four years, Kevin has grown into a full collaborator and colleague and we deeply value his many research, teaching, and service contributions. Congratulations, Kevin!

Outstanding MA Student: Tim Rocha

There is one person in Dunn Hall whose smile and positivity you can always count on. Even if it was crunch time at the end of the semester and power in the building has just gone out. Even if that person was fighting off a cold. Even if he was in the middle of a classroom, surrounded by creative chaos. At any point, if you came across Tim Rocha and asked him how he was doing, or shared an amusing story, or discussed an exciting research idea, he was guaranteed to respond with a heartwarming, “Aweesooome!” For the past six years – first as an undergraduate and then as a Master’s student – Tim has brought much needed cheering to the Department of Communication and Journalism. Of course, lifting our spirits alone is not what one does to deserve the Outstanding MA Student award. But you can think of it as just the cherry on top of an aweesooome sundae of academic performance, research pursuits, teaching success, and work that includes service with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and starting an entrepreneurial business venture. 

As a student and a scholar, Tim Rocha has demonstrated thoughtfulness, critical engagement, and remarkable adaptability. He has excelled in all his graduate classes and completed an original research project, focusing on communication and identity processes surrounding patients’ experiences of being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal smoking-related illness. He examined the expression of identity shifts through analysis of YouTube vlogs. As online narratives, such vlogs function as coping, sense-making, and community-oriented texts that shape cultural knowledge and practices around smoking-related illness. Using grounded theory, Tim analyzed the videos and found that people living with a chronic and/or terminal smoking-related illness experience and express liminal selves, navigating between “damage” and “capability.” His research has implications for interactions between patients and providers in guiding both to see the complexity of illness experience and to identify areas of capability, where an ill person’s agency may be strengthened and built upon. Based on this work, Tim submitted a paper for review to the Health Communication Division of the National Communication Association. 

Tim’s research was motivated by a focus on and interest in narrative as a social force, which has also informed and has been informed by his work as an instructor for CMJ 106: Storytelling. The storytelling course is built on Benjamin’s premise that “The story-teller takes what he tells from experience – his own or that reported by others. And he in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to his tale.” And it has been rewarding to watch Tim’s growth as an educator who moves students to know storytelling as an embodied and felt experience. As a budding teacher, he at first sought comfort and confidence in didactic teaching, in which he lectured students on ideas about narrative, but left the practice of storytelling to students’ devices or the occasional in-class exercise. Over the last two years, however, Tim has taken multiple risks and has turned the classroom into a space of creativity and embodied experimentation, where students learn storytelling by doing it and feeling its effects. Tim designed and/or refined numerous activities around story structures and modalities of telling (e.g., “telling without words). In addition, he has served as a mentor to other Storytelling instructors and has always willingly stepped in as a “substitute” instructor when others have needed it. 

In addition to his academic pursuits and work, Tim applied his knowledge of and interest in health communication as an intern with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, where he was tasked first with supporting MaineCare coverage and tracking impacts of the opioid epidemic. This work later shifted to align with the State’s efforts in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst all of this, Tim also managed to launch, together with a childhood friend, a business, MintLeaf Marketing, which has already worked with some notable clients, such as the United Way of Northwestern Massachusetts. As their web site proclaims, that’s quite the “accomplishMINT.”  

As you can probably surmise from the above, it is difficult to sum up in a few words all the reasons why Tim Rocha is the very deserving recipient of this year’s Outstanding Master’s Student award… So, perhaps one word, said with a warm smile will have to do: AWEESOOOME! Congratulations, Tim!

Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant (TA) Awards

Note from Dr. Lily Herakova, Teaching Coordinator: It is especially difficult to recognize only one (or two) person(s) with this award in the year 2020. All CMJ TAs have done a remarkable job in supporting students and each other through thick and thin — from welcoming a new cohort to ending the semester during a pandemic and after a sudden shift to remote learning. All CMJ TAs have embodied compassion, care, and superb capability to show students and the world why communication knowledge matters and how it can and needs to be a part of our collective response to COVID-19 and associated hardships. I am truly humbled, inspired, and grateful to know you, to have worked with you, to be your fellow traveler in learning! 

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences TA Award: Jaquel Eley

Jaquel Eley was nominated by the Department of Communication and Journalism for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching. SHE WON! This is a well-deserved honor and we are so proud of Jaquel and the growth she has shared with us all and with students. Included in our recognition below are some excerpts from the nomination letter, sent to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Jaquel’s teaching is exemplary, inspiring, and impressively impactful in the classroom and beyond. This is reflected in her high evaluation scores, in the comments of appreciative students, and in the letters of faculty who have observed her in the classroom. In addition to teaching CMJ 103: Public Speaking, Jaquel has organized, coordinated, and/or participated in multiple panels and trainings on issues of equity and race, where she has spoken both from personal experience (on a pop-up panel on microagressions in February 2019) and based on her research on race and masculinity representations in popular media. Ms. Eley also interned at the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, assisting faculty in developing materials for online and hybrid courses. This range of pedagogical activities is impressive for anyone, let alone a Master’s student – it truly demonstrates the work of an impactful educator who deserves to be recognized!

In our years of working with Jaquel, we have learned that she is not one of the rare few people who have an innate understanding of how best to facilitate and inspire life-long learning and connections among students. She is one of the rarer few who come to teaching with just the right mix of humility and confidence to know that we have much to learn from our colleagues and from students. We have all been impressed with Jaquel’s response to and integration of feedback in her continuous pedagogical development. Teaching conversation with her are filled with questions, ideas, and inspirations. This translates into well-structured and planned classroom experiences that are also undeniably fun and authentic. Faculty letters remark on the warm atmosphere Jaquel creates through music and how this supports both her as a teacher and the students. With the right mix of slide-supported lectures, activities, and discussions, she shares deep and contextual knowledge of the material and moves students to connect to one another and create a comfortable performing situation (this is very important in a course, such as Public Speaking).

Walking into a classroom where Jaquel is the teacher, one is bound to see students looking at each other with respect and looking up to their instructor for trusted advice and encouragement. Students experiment with fairy tale activities and impromptu award speeches to celebrities. Such experimentation is important as it shows courage in the face of an anxiety-producing situation for many. Yet, on a more serious day, you would see students deep in research and questioning their sources, turning to each other and to Jaquel, knowing that they would find an attentive and caring listener.

Perhaps nothing speaks higher of this wonderful learning environment Jaquel has created than students’ own words about the class, so allow us to conclude our recognition with one such comment: “I wouldn’t have wanted any other instructor for this course. Jaquel was always clear on what we needed to get done, but was patient and would re–explain things multiple times for the class when students had questions. She was also nice to everyone and was respectful of the different opinions students had, and she also always had a good attitude. She turned the anxiety–inducing situation of public speaking into something that was easy and fun.”

Department of Communication and Journalism TA Award: Tabitha Boze

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change” – this quote by Dr. Brené Brown sits gently yet provocatively at the top of Tabitha Boze’s syllabus for CMJ 103: Public Speaking. It is followed by the one that is shared on every CMJ 103 syllabus, by Dr. Maya Angelou: “We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.” What a perfect pairing these words by two inspiring change-makers are! And how perfectly they stand in for what Tabitha brings to teaching and learning in the Communication classroom – whole-heartedness, connection, courage, and a commitment to communication as the transformative act of seeing the other and recognizing our shared humanity! For these reasons, we recognize Tabitha Boze with the 2020 Outstanding CMJ Teaching Assistant Award.

Over the years of her teaching Public Speaking, it has been a true honor to see Tabitha grow into her own and embrace the superpower she brings to facilitating learning – a deep care for human connection. Numerous letters from faculty point our that Tabitha clearly facilitates learning as a “two-way street” with active and mutual involvement in the learning process. Tabitha provides the road map – clear layout of each class day with well-expressed rationale for learning activities and meaningful connections to both past and future lessons. Students, in turn respond with trust and follow the steps and, if they come to a road block, the class figures out together how to surmount it and Tabitha edits the map. For example, one faculty observed how she edits PowerPoint slides in real time to incorporate students’ feedback and questions. Faculty and fellow TAs have noted how actions such as these show “genuine care” and respect for opinions, as well as attention to meeting students where they are.

With much reflection and shared processing in TA meetings, Tabitha continuously transforms what may seem like students’ “challenges to authority” into an understanding of the complex environments of academic lives, followed by supportive communication. In the most recent example of that, after the University of Maine transitioned to remote learning, Tabitha noted that some students were not engaging as she was hoping they will and as they have shown they can earlier in the semester. She contacted them to better grasp the impacts of this new context on their learning and, in response, began developing and recording video tutorials for working with the class materials. Beyond dedication and big-picture understanding of both the course content and learning in general, this shows that Tabitha is committed to learning as dynamic and collaborative. Showing vulnerability in that sense is not about self-absorbed disclosure, but about demonstrating that one is always in the process of learning, that no one has figured everything out, that we can support each other along the way – and that in doing so, we are bound to find “innovation, creativity, and change.”

Nothing speaks better to this than students’ own words, recognizing Tabitha as “an above and beyond” educator. One student wrote: “Tabby is a wonderful professor and made the attending class very profitable. This course has personally helped me overcome my fear of public speaking and for that, I am very grateful.” In a different semester, a student remarked how much their abilities have improved and Tabitha’s role in this: “I oftentimes catch myself using concepts or skills learned when presenting in my other classes, such as holding my notecards lower from my face to taking time to breathe and speak slowly. Public speaking has helped my confidence (…) Tabitha is a great instructor and really values the student’s opinion. Every single feedback she has given me on my work has been super beneficial. She has created a safe and validated environment with her CMJ 103 class.”

Thank you, Tabitha, for being a vulnerable, courageous, and caring teacher who understands that communication is about seeing each other and honoring our humanity! 

A concluding note of congratulations from Dr. Paul Grosswiler:

One of my favorite times of the academic year is graduation, a rite of passage after four — or so — years of study and social life, transforming teenagers into adults and launching you in the first, often uncertain stage of your careers. The faculty line the center aisle and applaud the graduates as you march quickly into the Alfond between our two lines of black, or more colorfully robed professors, giving us a chance to shout out words of recognition withfist bump or high fives. Later, as you pass across the stage to the the next stage of life, I always jump up from my seat among the rows of faculty to shake hands, hug and congratulate you as I recognize you receiving your diploma.

Beyond the colorful symbolism and pomp of the celebration, though, the moment I most enjoy is the more intimate venue of our department’s annual graduation reception early in the morning before the big event. We invite all of you to a light breakfast and a last chance to personally congratulate you on this watershed achievement and recognize those among you whom the faculty has selected to receive departmental awards for academic excellence, service to the university community and journalistic rigor.

Later on, the photos of the award winners, both undergraduate and graduate, are mounted on a department bulletin board near the water fountain, and your names are added to the growing number of plaques in the department office.

What I like best, though, is the simple experience of seeing you with your parents, family members, and friends and supporters as I move around the circular dining tables in a Wells meeting room, chatting and reflecting on my experiences with you in the classroom. These brief snapshots of you nestled in your family and friend community create memorable images of humor, and emotion, and happiness. I love to see the family resemblances and differences, and to personally congratulate your parents and families, without whose support we wouldn’t be there. It is their accomplishment as well as yours.

In normal times, I wouldn’t need to try to describe this to you. We would all be there together. As department chair the past couple of years, I would say some of these words of congratulations laced with attempts at humor all around  and introduce faculty members who have volunteered to introduce the award winners and present you with certificates.

This year the coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives, and rather than experience this with you, we are offering these written comments to convey at least the content of the reception, minus the food and the awards, which we will create and mail to you once we are back on campus. The awards, not the food. And we will display your photos and names in the hallway and office.

Although we all have been deprived of the trappings of graduation, we can still create and communicate and share the meaning and joy that the rituals are constructed to reinforce. You have been transformed from teenagers to adults. You are launched into the first stage of your careers. You have completed what some parents of prospective students say their friends who are UMaine alumni call the best years of their lives.

I know some of the graduating seniors from the journalism media ethics capstone this semester, which we plopped onto Zoom, meeting every class period as scheduled after break. I was surprised at how present I felt with you as we saw and talked with each other from our natural habitats. The class became an anchor in an unmoored world, a touchstone in a dark and difficult time. All of you are and have been brave, and resilient, and as focused on learning as it has been possible to be.

Knowing what the graduating seniors in my class have endured and survived, with humor and raw feelings, with style and distinction, I salute you all the more for persisting through a global health crisis more pressing than any in the last hundred years. I wish all of you and yours good health, peace of mind, satisfying work in your careers, and continued growth as lifelong learners in the lives that you choose.