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DHS Holds 150th Commencement

Deering High School held its 150th graduation exercises for the Class of 2024 on Thursday, June 6, at Merrill Auditorium. The morning ceremony included remarks by Superintendent Ryan Scallon and Deering Principal Jake Giessman, as well as speeches by students, musical performances and the presentation of awards and diplomas.

Scallon spoke of the historic nature of the ceremony dating back a century and a half.

“Deering High School has been a cornerstone of the community since 1874,” he said, “Your school has always been committed to academic excellence. Today – as one of the most diverse high schools north of Boston – Deering is not only a place where students grow as scholars but as human beings. Deering provides an inclusive and supportive environment where students, faculty, and staff of diverse backgrounds collaborate to foster a vibrant learning community.”

Scallon said that, throughout the years, “Deering has continued to inspire students to achieve their full potential and make a positive impact in the world. I have no doubt that you 174 graduates here today are the latest generation of students that Deering has prepared and empowered to do just that. Congratulations, Class of 2024! Based on what you have achieved while at Deering, I’m sure you’ll go far in whatever you choose to do next.”

He praised the class for overcoming having to start high school in the fall of 2020 with hybrid learning at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. They then successfully tackled the rigorous demands of high school when in-person learning resumed. He noted that some graduates also confronted additional challenges, such as acclimating to a new country and language, experiencing homelessness and working jobs and taking on extra responsibilities to help support their families.

“We give great credit to you, Class of 2024, for the tremendous resilience you have shown in overcoming obstacles, managing responsibilities and persevering to reach this graduation milestone today,” Scallon said. “Today you are prepared and empowered for college and career.”

He highlighted a few of the many accomplishments of the class. For example, many Deering graduates are headed to highly competitive colleges and universities, including Yale, Smith, Boston College, Mount Holyoke, Emory, the University of Connecticut and schools in the University of Maine system. Students have won more than $1 million in scholarships and grants to help them attend college.

Nearly 50 graduates started college a semester early through SMCC’s Spring Ahead program, getting a head start on their college education. Also, 12 students graduated with STEM diploma endorsements, recognizing their extensive work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and 11 graduates earned a Seal of Biliteracy for having attained mastery of English and at least one other world language. In fact, three students earned the seal in a total of three languages.

Seniors helped the Deering Science Olympiad Team win third place overall in the state tournament this spring and were instrumental in Deering’s Trivia Team claiming the Maine State Quiz Bowl Championship title in May. Seniors also were key in helping the Deering boys’ soccer team win the Class A South boys' soccer championship game – the first time the Rams played in a regional final match since 1999. Also, senior involvement played a role in the Deering Players winning the One Act play competition at the Maine Drama Festival Class A regionals in March, when Deering bested several local powerhouse schools.

Deering’s motto is “All One School.” Principal Giessman said that “is the thing that sets Deering apart.”

Giessman said that the type of diversity of cultures, religion, language and race found at Deering are often used in the world as the “root of oppression, war and conflict.” By contrast, he said, the Deering community is characterized by unity and respect. “I hope you can take that out in the world,” Giessman told the graduates.

Deering graduations are student-centered by tradition, so Giessman ceded the rest of his speaking time to Hibo Ali, a member of the Class of 2024 who Giessman described as embodying Deering’s values.

In her remarks, Ali drew attention to the loss of life and humanitarian crises in Gaza, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly deploring the deaths of children, who she said “won’t have the chance to walk across the stage as we do today.” She told her classmates, “I urge you all to advocate for human life.”

Both Ali and Destinie Vor, the student body president, thanked their immigrant parents for sacrificing so much so that they could succeed. Vor also told her fellow graduates: “The future isn’t something we enter but something we create…Congratulations to the Class of 2024. The world awaits us!”

Salutatorian Timothy Callaghan also thanked his family and urged his classmates to actively seek to meet new people and do new things. “You never know what amazing experiences you might have,” he said.

Valedictorian Emma Murphy concluded her remarks by telling graduates: “Use this moment to reach for the stars!”

Watch the ceremony on YouTube.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with more than 6,600 students, and it’s also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of 53 languages. Approximately 48 percent of the district’s students are white and 52 percent are students of color. Nearly half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.