UMA 2024 Commencement Ceremony Celebrates Graduates on May 4 at Augusta Civic Center

The University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) will hold its 2024 commencement ceremony to celebrate its upcoming graduates at the Augusta Civic Center on May 4, 2024, with the ceremony beginning at 10 am. Over 550 graduates will be honored through a Commencement program that will also be live-streamed on

Following are a few highlights of the speakers and honorees for the Commencement Ceremony:

grace leavitt
Grace Leavitt, President of the Maine Education Association

Commencement Address – Grace Leavitt
President of the Maine Education Association

Grace Leavitt has been teaching for over 43 years. She taught Spanish for 33 years at Greely High School in Cumberland, ME where she also served as department chair. Ms. Leavitt taught both Spanish and English at a middle school in Massachusetts, and English as a Second Language in Madrid, Spain. She has been a union leader (at local, state, and national levels) throughout nearly all of my years of teaching. Ms. Leavitt is now finishing her second term as President of the Maine Education Association, representing nearly 24,000 educators in our schools, public universities, and community colleges as well as retirees, aspiring educators, and employees of Maine Public Broadcasting and Portland Public Library.

Kathleen Dexter Distinguished Student Award and Student Speaker – Allison Winship
Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Technology.

Allison grew up on a farm in Hodgdon, Maine, and ever since she was little, knew she wanted to work with animals. Allison began working in a veterinarian’s office when she was in 8th grade. Caring, dedicated, and hard-working, Allison was an exemplary student. Professor Kelby Myers said of Allison, “In a profession where empathy and teamwork are paramount, Allie stands out as a compassionate caregiver and a humble leader, embodying the values that make her an outstanding veterinary technician. She worked multiple jobs, did volunteer work, and served on the student government association.”

Distinguished Alumni – Rhonda DeContie, ’07

UMA’s 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient is The Honorable Rhonda DeContie, Magistrate Judge and Clerk of Courts of the Penobscot Nation Judicial System. Rhonda earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mental Health & Human Services from UMA Bangor in June of 2007. She was the 2015 Recipient of The Court Support Excellence, and the 2019 Recipient of The Wellness Court Advocate For Healing. Rhonda has been a Cultural Advisor to the Penobscot Nation Healing to Wellness Court for 12 years. She has served on the Pretrial Justice Reform Task Force, as well as a gubernatorial appointment to the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse. Rhonda has been interviewed for numerous newspapers, magazines, and podcasts for her work helping people who use drugs fight addiction through connection to their traditional cultural roots, and has years of experience speaking nationally on Healing to Wellness Courts.

Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters – Wendy Ault
Executive Director of the MELMAC Education Foundation

Because of her extraordinary service to the people of Maine and her commitment to assist Maine’s youth pursuing post-secondary education, Wendy has been selected by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees to receive this honor. Her leadership as a member of the Maine State Board of Education, her advocacy as a member in the Maine House of Representatives representing part of Kennebec County from 1988 through 1996, and her oversight and guidance at MELMAC, Inc. since its creation, are outstanding and are inspiring examples of service to others.

Professor Emeriti – Bob Klose
Emeritus of Biological Sciences

Professor of Biological Sciences, Robert Klose’s field of study is marine biology. He earned his B.S. from Fairleigh Dickinson University and both his M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Maine. He has also studied at universities in Germany and Iceland.

Not only is Robert a science professor, but was a Hospital Corpsman in the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the U.S.S. Saginaw. He is also a prolific award-winning author. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Exquisite Corpse, Confrontation and elsewhere. Professor Klose is also a regular contributor of essays to The Christian Science Monitor, and his book “Small Worlds—Adopted Sons, Pet Piranhas and Other Mortal Concerns” is a curated collection of those essays. His novel “Long Live Grover Cleveland,” won a 2016 Ben Franklin Literary Award and a USA BookNews Award, and “Life on Mars,” was an Award-Winning Finalist in the Humor category of the 2019 Best Book Awards sponsored by American Book Fest. Additionally, Professor Klose has written two biographical books, “Adopting Alyosha—A Single Man Finds a Son in Russia,” “Adopting Anton: A Single Man Seeks a Son in Ukraine,” about his experiences adopting his two sons.

Professor Emeriti – Richard (Rick) Nelson
Emeritus of Music

Guitarist and composer, Dr. Richard (Rick) Nelson, served as Professor of Music and head of the Sonic Arts and Composition Concentration here at UMA. His undergraduate education was at the University of California (Berkeley), and graduate studies in composition were at Indiana University and Columbia; his principal teachers were Don Erb and Mario Davidovsky. Richard additionally studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam at the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.

He has been recognized as one of the few composers to integrate both classical and jazz styles of music. He is co-leader, guitarist, and a principal composer for the Makrokosmos Orchestra, a 15-player, New York-based hybrid jazz/new-music ensemble. Dr. Nelson’s works, additionally, have been performed by ensembles such as ALEA III, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, and the Portland Piano Trio.

Nelson performs regularly in Maine and northern New England with his own eclectic Imaginary Ensemble. As a jazz performer and composer/bandleader, he has performed widely at festivals, clubs, colleges and other venues in the U.S. and abroad. He has had the privilege of performing with numerous world-class musicians. Many of these performances have been with the internationally recognized Boston-based Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, of which he has been a core member for many years. Nelson has released five albums of his original compositions and arrangements. With a concert in New York on May 3, 2024, he celebrated the release of his fifth album, Dissolve, with the Makrokosmos Orchestra.