It is often said that Maine feels like one big small town.
I know Mainers especially felt our special statewide connectivity in the dark days that followed the horrible mass shooting in Lewiston on Oct. 25.
Like too many others, our University of Maine System family experienced tremendous loss that night. Our students, employees, alumni and their loved ones were among those killed and injured. Both shooting sites sit within five miles of the University of Southern Maine’s long-standing Lewiston-Auburn campus, where the University of Maine at Augusta also has a regional education center.
That’s why I was so appreciative that Governor Mills reached out to suggest our System establish a scholarship fund to accept contributions from those who wanted to help with the college costs of those impacted.
We did that. And we decided to further build on the Governor’s leadership and the generosity to Lewiston shown from around the world.
Last month, our Board of Trustees joined me in announcing that our System will permanently waive tuition and mandatory fees for the immediate family members of the 18 who were killed and for the 31 individuals who were physically injured in the shooting — whenever they are ready to pursue their door-opening bachelor’s degree at Maine’s public universities.
We estimate more than 80 Mainers could have their entire UMS education waived and will be working with the Office of the Maine Attorney General in the coming months to verify eligibility.
A four-year college degree is the most proven path to economic mobility. For example, working-age UMaine alumni earn more than double the state’s average median income.
By all accounts, those who were tragically killed were deeply devoted to their families and working hard to provide them with a strong future. While nothing will bring them back, our System believes that the best way we can honor the memories of those taken too soon is to ensure their loved ones can easily access the transformational power of postsecondary education.
I also know from my experiences as Governor of Connecticut in the aftermath of Sandy Hook that beyond unimaginable grief, there is also overwhelming anxiety about financial and other responsibilities for those who are impacted by mass shootings. This is especially true for those who are suddenly single parents or are unable to return to work or school because of physical and emotional wounds. Our hope is that by committing to cover these college costs, it will alleviate one of the many burdens these families are now facing and make it easier for them to rebuild their lives and our Maine community.
I have been humbled by the state’s positive response to our System’s Lewiston Strong Tuition Waiver. I have also heard from those who are not eligible for this waiver and who have been deeply affected by the shooting — among them those who were present but fortunately not physically injured and those who lost loved ones, including beloved grandparents.
I invite you to join me, if you are able, in investing in their future too by making a donation to our UMS Lewiston Strong Scholarship through the University of Maine Foundation at our.umaine.edu/lewiston or through the USM Foundation at usm.maine.edu/lewistonstrong.
This is what Maine — and its public university system — does.