Thursday, June 7, 2018

Portland High School Holds Its 197th Commencement Ceremony

PORTLAND, Maine – Portland High School, the second oldest operating public high school in the United States, held its 197th graduation exercises on Wednesday, June 6, at Merrill Auditorium. There were 180 graduates in the Class of 2018.

The ceremony included remarks by Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana, live music performed by numerous exceptionally talented young musicians in the Class of 2018, the presentation of awards and diplomas and addresses by students. The auditorium was packed with students’ families and friends and school district staff. Also in attendance were members of the Portland Board of Public Education and Mayor Ethan Strimling.

Botana said he was impressed with Portland High School’s long history and the fact that it has served generations of Portland families. He asked parents and other members of the audience to raise their hands if they were former graduates Portland High graduates now celebrating the latest family member to graduate from the school. Many hands went up and the audience clapped and cheered.

“What a tribute to the long and distinguished history of this institution and its significance to this community,” Botana said.

He cited the graduates’ academic and athletic successes – including the fact that four members of the class are recipients of the Portland Public Schools’ newest award, the Seal of Biliteracy, for having attained mastery of English and at least one other world language.

The Portland Public Schools is the first school district in Maine to award the Seal of Biliteracy to its graduating seniors. Nationally, nearly 30 states bestow the award.

“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,” Botana said.

Botana also quoted Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist, on the important role of young people in addressing the world’s problems. Botana quoted Toffler as saying that “the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring” to find solutions to society’s ills.

Botana said the Class of 2018 has already had an impact in such ways as making students’ voices heard about the need for school safety during the National School Walkout in March, and by working to make changes to improve their school community.

“Class of 2018, you have a powerful voice that has already effected change,” Botana said. “Take what you learned from your experiences this year into the next chapter of your lives.  The future of Portland, the future of Maine and the future of this country will be written by you.”

Portland High Principal Sheila Jepson said it was fitting the graduates chose “We Are the World” as their class song, because the Class of 2018 is very diverse.  “The lyrics truly capture the essence of this class,” she said. “You do represent the world. Your classmates come from 23 birth countries and speak 16 different languages. I have no doubt you will go into this world and make a brighter day.”

Class Salutatorian Samuel Mermin spoke about how much he values that diversity.  “When I came here, I met a whole new world of people,” Sam said, citing friends from many different countries.  He predicted that class members would gravitate to people more like themselves as they gained careers and had families, but Sam urged them to resist that inclination. He said they should expand their social networks because “the actual world is more like this school.”

Valedictorian Jessica Brown encouraged class members “to thine own self be true.” She said that in venturing out on their own without their families and usual support systems, they would find their way if they stayed true to their values.

The Portland High School Class of 2018 will be attending more than 50 colleges and universities all across the country. The institutions include Bowdoin, Bates, Brown, Northeastern, Tufts, Skidmore, the University of New England, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Middlebury College, the University of Pennsylvania and several schools in the University of of Maine system, as well as Southern Maine Community College.

The graduates won many accolades, and more than $1 million in awards and scholarships, The awards include the prestigious Brown Memorial Medal, unique to Portland High School. The silver medal was established in the 1864 will of Portland businessman J.B. Brown to honor his son. Each year, 10 of the medals are awarded to Portland High students at graduation – five to outstanding female students and five to outstanding male students. This year’s winners are: Jessica Ann Brown, Samuel A. Mermin, Caitriona Louisa Moran, Aaron J. Hockstra, Ella Altidor, Devon Reid Cohen, Kitiara B. Rosmus, Reed M Foehl, Ashley Hope Chadbourne and Aiden Richman.

For the third year in a row, the district was able to provide simultaneous translation of the graduation ceremony in the most common languages spoken by the families of students in the district, to those that requested it.

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