April 30, 2004
When 21-year-old Jamie Pelletier of Madawaska walks across the platform to receive her associate degree at the University of Maine at Fort Kent's 122nd commencement exercises, May 8, 125-years of UMFK history will come full circle.
Although graduation day will be one of extreme pride for the young St. John Valley woman and her family, Pelletier's participation in the ceremony and the awarding of her first degree from UMFK will also be a significant moment for the University, which awarded its very first degree in 1882, to Pelletier's great, great, grandfather Theodore Bouchard.
Bouchard, who was alphabetically listed at the top of the roster of the first graduating class, consisting of nine students, was officially issued the first teaching certificate by the Madawaska Training School, the name under which present-day UMFK was founded in 1878 and remained until becoming the Fort Kent State Normal School in 1955.
The original diploma, signed 122-years ago on February 24, 1882, by M.T.S. Principal Vetal Cyr and State Superintendent of Schools N.A. Luce has been passed down from generation to generation, and is now in the possession of Pelletier's grandmother, Yvette Pelletier who lives in Madawaska.
"The diploma is a family heirloom," said Pelletier. "Great Pepere (grandfather) Theodore was the first person in our family ever to attend college. My Memere Pelletier is especially proud because I am following in his footsteps and will receive my teaching degree from UMFK next year."
As she continues to pursue her bachelor of science degree in elementary education, Pelletier has earned enough credits to receive an associate of arts degree in general studies. When she is handed that diploma this week, she will be the first in a new generation of Theodore Bouchard descendants to graduate from college.
"My grandmother is very proud, seeing that I'm the first grandchild on the Pelletier side to graduate from college out of seven," said Pelletier.
Although more than twelve decades has passed since her great, great, grandfather earned his teaching certificate from the Madawaska Training School the connection from one generation to another has not escaped the family.
"When I graduated from high school in 2001 and was accepted to come here (to UMFK) my family joked that maybe because my grandfather graduated from M.T.S., I could get a tuition waiver," said Pelletier.
Pelletier isn't only following in the footsteps of her great, great grandfather; she is also joining her father Robert, who earned a bachelor of university studies degree from UMFK in 1993.
It was another UMFK graduate, Ginette Albert, Pelletier's aunt, who earned her teaching degree from UMFK in 1976, who inspired her to enroll in the teacher education program.
"My aunt Ginette taught me in the second grade and that's when I knew I wanted to be a teacher. She inspired me to follow this dream," said Pelletier.
Following that dream at UMFK has added significance for Pelletier who admits she feels a special bond with the institution.
"I feel the history of this place, especially when I look at old pictures of the campus. I also feel a special kinship with my great, great grandfather,"said Pelletier. "I feel like it's a family tradition now. He started a legacy. Everyone in my dad's family has a college degree and they are all doing well, and Pepere Theodore started that path."
To bridge the past to the present, Pelletier will march in side-by-side with 94-year-old M.T.S. alumna Genevieve Jalbert Bouchard, class of 1926, who will be receiving a distinguished service award at this year's commencement.