For identical twins Melanie and Rebecca Griffin, graduating from college in three years has been all about getting to careers they love while having as many enriching experiences as possible along the way.
The two hail from Hodgdon and graduated from Hodgdon Middle/High School in 2017. Melanie is graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work degree and Rebecca a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education Math. They really got started on their college work while still in high school, taking early college classes in the afternoons, evenings, and online at UMPI’s Houlton Higher Education Center. Rebecca earned 23 college credits and—“not that it’s a competition,” but—Melanie earned 24 credits.
“That’s pretty much the first year of college done,” she said. “I saved about a year of college tuition and books.”
“I was excited because it meant I could go right into upper level math classes like calculus, and I could save money because I had a year of school done,” Rebecca added.
It was a big help, they agreed, because not only were they going through college at the same time, they also had a brother in college during their three years at UMPI. They estimate that they each saved around $8,300, not including what they saved by living off-campus during their time at college.
But getting to UMPI was a different story for each of them. For Rebecca, she knew it was her first choice when she visited as a sophomore in high school. She wanted to be a teacher and she wanted to go to a smaller school: “When I got accepted, the Admissions person came down to my high school to congratulate me. UMPI was my dream school, and I had people come right to my high school to let me know. That was very special.”
For Melanie, it was trickier: “I was hesitant to go to UMPI at first because Rebecca was going there. I didn’t want to intrude on her and I was terrified that if we went to the same school, we would just be known as ‘the twins.’ It felt like I had to choose between being an individual or being with my best friend.”
When she finally picked Social Work as her major, though, she received a great scholarship opportunity from UMPI and was pleased with what she’d learned about UMPI’s Social Work program.
“What really helped make up my mind was Accepted Students Day,” she said. “I remember I got to meet Shirley Rush for the first time and some of the people who would be my classmates. I remember really liking it and deciding that’s where I was going to go.”
Melanie and Rebecca lived in Presque Isle the first two years of college with friends of their family. But that didn’t stop them from taking advantage of a whole slew of campus offerings. Their first year—“fresh-more year”—Melanie joined CRU and Page Turners Club, and Rebecca joined the Student Maine Education Association and ran cross country and track and field. Further into their college careers, Melanie joined the Student Organization of Social Work, helped run the student food pantry, and took martial arts and dance classes off campus. Rebecca was able to take part in the statewide MEA conference in Rockland and a student educators conference at the University of Maine at Farmington.
“Some people have the idea that if you commute, you don’t get a good college experience,” Melanie said. “But that’s not true. No matter where you go, as long as you’re active on campus, make friends, and try new things, that’s really what a college experience should be.”
Their third and final year at UMPI, the Griffins stayed home in Hodgdon. Rebecca was student teaching in the area and all of her classes were online. Melanie had 500 hours of field placement work in Houlton and traveled to Presque Isle two days a week for classes. Neither was prepared for the Chancellor’s announcement that students wouldn’t be returning after Spring Break because of the COVID-19 healthcare emergency.
“I had Social Work classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and we found out Wednesday, so we had to say ‘goodbye’ on Thursday,” Melanie remembered.
“All of my classes were online to begin with so, for me, a lot of the shock came with trying to deal with the changes in the public school system where I was student teaching,” Rebecca said. “It didn’t sink in for me that college was closing until I realized that graduation wasn’t going to be in-person.”
Both are quick to say that they appreciate the virtual commencement that will take place on May 9. But it’s also not the same.
“Graduation is about family gathering together to see you, showing them around your campus, having that feeling when you march with your classmates and thinking ‘Wow, we did this.’ You think of all those all-nighters you pulled, those tests you had to take, and appreciate that all the struggles that go with University have finally come to this,” Melanie said. “And then when it doesn’t happen, it’s kind of anticlimactic. There’s a lack of closure. It doesn’t feel like we’re graduating but we are.”
It’s a sentiment members of the Class of 2020 are feeling across the nation and beyond. And yet, for the Griffin sisters, there is also so much to look forward to. Rebecca hopes to find a position as a high school math teacher in the region and Melanie wants to continue working in a healthcare setting, perhaps in hospice, after she receives her Social Work license.
“Pope John Paul II said, ‘Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for the catch.’ This is something I think about often, especially when I am stressed out about what is to come, or when I start thinking that I am too small to make a difference in the world,” Melanie said. “It reminds me to have courage and to strive for excellence, especially when helping others.”