Originally published in Castine Patriot, May 8, 2014
MMA graduates urged to “think for yourself” and “pay it forward” Commencement speaker Barlow honored by academy
“Don’t accept the status quo…think for yourself,” said commencement speaker John Barlow, Maine Maritime Academy Vice President of Academic Affairs and professor of marine biology. Graduation was held on May 3, 2014 at MMA’s campus in Castine, Maine.
by Anne Berleant
The sun broke through thick cloud canopy as the 2014 graduates of Maine Maritime Academy entered the Alexander Fieldhouse on May 3.
One hundred-seventy six students received associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees during the 71st commencement ceremony.
“Without doubt, this is the best day of the year at Maine Maritime,” said Chairman of Trustees Robert J. Peacock III.
He then struck a more sober note, advising graduates to “study the culture and geography…of the areas you will travel through,” as “the world is a very dangerous place.”
In his remarks, President William Brennan urged graduates to “pay it forward by lending a hand to those around you.”
“We are all part of one community, we have helped and supported each other and we all need to continue to look out for one another,” he said.
Commencement speaker Professor John Barlow, retiring after 44 years as professor of marine biology, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs, spoke of his first years at MMA.
“Times were different, I was different and the academy was different,” he said.
The faculty were given naval ranks, wore uniforms and most were WWII merchant mariners and career Coast Guard retirees. Students were all in the regiment.
“I believe my short crew cut was what probably landed me the job,” he said. “While times have changed, appearances still do count a great deal.”
The faculty of the 1970s were “impressive” for their “real life leadership and experience” more than their academic credentials.
After the Vietnam War, enrollment at MMA fell, Barlow recalled, with students not as interested in careers at sea. And “it was difficult to get a job at sea if at all….This was the impetus for the changes that have shaped [MMA] into what it is today.”
In his tenure, Barlow has seen the programs at MMA grow from two to 19, welcome women as students and offer programs that don’t require students to join the regiment—like his field, marine biology.
However, “some things at Maine Maritime Academy have not changed from our earliest days,” Barlow said. “Our career, leadership and management focus has not changed.”
He challenged students to be forward thinking and honest:
“Don’t accept the status quo just because everyone else does…think for yourself. Act ethically. Be 100 percent honest. Appreciate and respect diversity.”
Barlow, an Orland resident, is a life member of the Orland Fire Department and the Maine Fire Chief’s Association. He was granted an honorary degree of dean emeritus during the commencement ceremony. Professor Elaine Potoker, retiring after 17 years and two Fulbright awards, was conferred the honorary degree of professor emeritus.