BANGOR — Long before he attained world renown as the broker of the Northern Ireland peace accord, former Senate Majority Leader and U.S. District Judge George Mitchell was a struggling Maine student in need of a helping hand to get to college.
On Sunday, Mitchell was in Bangor to extend a helping hand to 32 Maine students by presenting scholarships from the fund he established to help in-state students bound for Maine university and college campuses.
This year, the students received awards of $2,500 each toward higher education.
Mitchell established the fund to give Maine students the same opportunity he received as a child of parents who believed strongly in education but who had little extra income or formal education.
“My parents valued learning, and they conveyed that value to their children. I was fortunate to get a good education,” Mitchell told the students and their family members during a ceremony and luncheon at Miller’s Restaurant.
“Because of that, because of the openness of American society, and because of the support I’ve received from the people of Maine, I am now able to help others, as I was once helped,” he added.
Mitchell issued a two-part challenge to this year’s scholarship recipients: Do their best to achieve success, and once they do that, follow his example and extend a helping hand to others.
“Don’t let there be any unused energy and talent,” Mitchell told the students.
“Set your sights high. Work hard, aim high and you’re bound to succeed,” he said.
Though Mitchell said the second part of his challenge was purely voluntary, he hoped that the scholarship recipients would rise to it.
“I want you someday to pay back the amount of money that you got to the fund so that other students just like you can [pursue a college education],” Mitchell said.
Alisia Wygant of Freedom, a graduate of Mount View High School in Thorndike, was among the students who received a scholarship from the Mitchell fund.
“Really it means going to a private college as opposed to a public one,” Wygant said. Wygant is enrolled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where she plans to study English and pursue a degree in library science.
The George Mitchell Scholarship Fund was created in 1994 with $1 million in campaign funds accumulated at the time of his decision not to seek another term in the U.S. Senate. With the proceeds of fund-raisers and Mitchell’s continuing contributions, the fund is now valued at $1.9 million.
Recipients were selected from a pool of 89 applicants by an awards committee on the basis of their academic achievement, financial need, community spirit and public service.
To ensure equal distribution of the proceeds, the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund stipulates that no school will qualify for a second scholarship until a student from every high school in Maine has received a scholarship.
The fund is administered by the Maine Community Foundation, a statewide organization with offices in Ellsworth and Portland.
This year’s recipients are: Tarsha Astbury, George Stevens Academy; Charis Campbell, Bonny Eagle High School; Lindsay Carter, Vinalhaven High School; Jeffery Castonguay, Erskine Academy; Nichole Clark, Hodgdon High School; Elizabeth Crosby, Woodland High School; James-Robert Curtis, Bucksport High School; Nicole Duval, Richmond Junior-Senior High School; Maria-Ausilia Evans, Lake Region High School; Michelle Frigon, Forest Hills High School; Audrey Gray, Westbrook High School; Jessica Greslick, Windham High School; Rebecca Hakala, Sanford High School; Shelly Katula, Oak Hill High School; Mary Kathleen Kiah Johnson, John Bapst Memorial High School; Maria Landry, Winslow High School; Daniel Lucier, Brewer High School; Jaime Madore, Presque Isle High School; Rachel Mansfield, Thornton Academy; Sandra Marshall, Old Orchard Beach High School; Jason McDonald, Jay High School; Michele McInnis, Telstar Regional High School; Son Nguyen, Bangor High School; Robert O’Brien, Deering High School; Rebecca Pelletier, Wisdom High School; Rachel Precopio, Mount Ararat High School; Sarah Putnam, Greely High School; Suzanna Rich, Hermon High School; Rebecca Skolnik, Cape Elizabeth High School; Danielle Wentworth, Old Town High School; Megan Wilkins, Southern Aroostook High School; Alisia Wygant, Mount View High School.