Saturday, June 9, 2018

Casco Bay High School Holds 10th Commencement Exercises

PORTLAND, Maine – Casco Bay High School held its 10th graduation exercises on Thursday, June 7, at Merrill Auditorium. There are 90 members of the graduating Class of 2018.

CBHS, founded in 2005, is the Portland Public Schools’ newest high school. It is a part of the EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) network, and CBHS students engage in project-based learning expeditions. U.S. News & World Report ranks CBHS as one of the top high schools in Maine. CBHS college counselor Elizabeth Hampton, emcee of this year’s graduation ceremony, noted that the school’s “dropout rate was less than half of 1 percent last year, which speaks volumes about our teaching staff.”

The school’s non-traditional approach to learning extends to its graduation ceremony. The ceremony this year included Hampton lightheartedly teasing the school’s beloved principal, Derek Pierce, whom she called “our perfectly imperfect principal,” for being too busy working to help students to get his hair cut or shop for new clothes. The ceremony was characterized more by hugs and humor than pomp and circumstance.

In his remarks, Portland Superintendent Xavier praised the Class of 2018 for its work to try to make the world a better place. “Participating in trying to address world problems is what the Casco Bay High School’s Class of 2018 is all about,” he said.

As an example, Botana pointed to a pop-up museum seniors created last fall to reveal the complexities, atrocities and resilient humanity in Syria, for which each student created a work of art. Seniors created the Syrian museum, which was open to other students and the public, in response to the question, "How do we determine what is our moral obligation?"

In March, Botana said, “you and other students at Casco Bay joined in the National School Walkout for students to express their concerns about school Safety.  You left class for 17 minutes – one minute for each victim in the Feb. 14 deadly murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I am proud of the peaceful and respectful way you and other students conducted yourselves that day. And I am proud that you took a stand to call for measures that keep students safe at school, limit access to weapons and provide mental health care to those in need.”

Botana continued, “Your class also took what you learned in social studies about the power of rhetoric and the laws concerning free speech to actually exercise your right of free speech. On First Friday in May, you literally took to your soapboxes, standing atop them in Monument Square to voice your beliefs and passions.”

Botana urged students to continue to take to their soapboxes to make their voices heard. “I’m hitching my wagon to your star,” he said. “I cannot wait to see all that you will become!”

Pierce received a standing ovation from the Class of 2018 as he stood to address the graduates. He focused his talk on Crew. Each grade at CBHS is divided into Crews – groups of students that generally stay together through all four years, with one faculty advisor for each Crew the first two years of high school and another for the last two years. Crew allows students to be part of a smaller peer community, and ensures that faculty members get to know students well.

In Crew, Pierce said, students “experience life with others like you and not like you.” That leads to greater understanding, he said. He quoted one student as saying that Crew led to  “the ability to see the good in people I don’t have anything in common with.”

Pierce encouraged students to continue to create “Crew through life,” not just with friends, but with people who are different from them. He described an incident that took place when he was 6 and which he now deeply regrets that involved him and some friends conspiring to drop a melon-sized rock on a boy not part of their group. Now, Pierce said, there is “a rash of fellows in power” who are choosing “to drop melon-sized rocks on people not in their Crew.” Pierce urged the Class of 2018: “Put down the melon-sized rocks and collaborate with people who think and act differently from you.”

After the principal’s address, the Class of 2018 presented its gift to the school, an outdoor classroom with nine benches and a white board to allow classes to be held outside and away from the influence of technology.

Senior Abigail Williams, chosen as the class writer, recited “The Serenity Trail,” a poem she wrote about the class journeying together. It included the lines: “We who have eaten with the earth/Slept by the tides/Risen with the sun/Know what it means to/Be thoughtful.” She ended with: “Class of 2018, I am incredibly lucky to have walked by your side.”

Another senior, Jacob Libby, was chosen by his classmates to be class speaker. Jacob recounted how the class overcame challenges during the class Quest and worked to raise awareness and funds to help people in countries such as Syria and South Sudan. The class also traveled to Detroit to learn about and assist in that city’s renaissance and created a documentary about unsung heroes in Detroit's efforts to revitalize itself.

Jacob urged his classmates in the future “to be the change this world so desperately needs.”

All the members of the Class of 2018 delivered some “final words,” each sharing a thought on topics such as life, their school experience and the future as they graduated. The Final Words included “I’m only at the beginning, but I’m damn proud I made it to the starting line” and “When I came to Casco, I was just a nerd but now I’m a nerd with a passion.”

As students received their diplomas, faculty read out loud their future college and career plans and what they’ll be remembered for – attributes both funny and serious.

Class members won acceptance from approximately 100 institutions, including various schools in the University of Maine system, as well as Bowdoin, Vassar, Occidental, Cornell, Colorado College, Smith and Mount Holyoke.

Members of the Class of 2018 also won more than $6.1 million in scholarships and grants.

This year, for the first time ever, six students graduated with a Seal of Biliteracy, for having attained mastery of English and at least one other world language. The Portland Public Schools became the first school district in Maine this year to award the Seal of Biliteracy to its graduating seniors. Nationally the award is given in nearly 30 states. 

Botana said, “We are proud to be a leader in this area because, as Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, we recognize that biliteracy forges connections between students and their heritage while making them attractive to future employers and college admissions offices.”

The auditorium’s seats were filled with students’ families and friends and school staff and other current and former CBHS students. Mayor Ethan Strimling and representatives from the Portland Board of Education members and City Council also were in attendance.

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