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PAE 176th Graduation Held June 27

Portland Adult Education (PAE) hosted its 176th graduation ceremony on June 27 at Merrill Auditorium. There were 85 graduates in the Class of 2024.

Adult education diplomas are earned in two ways. Students either successfully complete classes that award academic credits or pass the HiSET, a comprehensive high school equivalency test. In the Class of 2024, 41 students completed the required coursework and 45 students passed the HiSET. The commencement ceremony was an opportunity for all to gather to receive their diplomas. It also included remarks from PAE administration and staff, Superintendent Ryan Scallon and student speakers, as well as the awarding of scholarships, commendations to graduates and musical performances.

PAE students can range in age from their late teens to senior citizens. They haven’t followed the usual path to high school graduation for many reasons. The reasons can include political strife or social unrest interrupting their schooling in their home countries, homelessness, working full-time to support their families, immigrating to a new country and having to learn a new language and having a disability. Some PAE students have already completed high school or college, but in another country and language, so are beginning their educational journey all over again in the United States.

PAE teacher Rochelle Yanike Hale served as master of ceremonies, praising the “amazing class of 2024.” She commended the diploma graduates for the “tremendous amount of time and effort” they put into earning their diplomas. Also, Hale noted that the HiSET test is “challenging under any circumstances but is particularly difficult when you’ve been out of school for years or taking it in your third language.”

Scallon told the graduates that “one of the reasons I was excited to join PPS last summer was because of its strong adult education program. PAE has been educating Portlanders since 1848…that’s incredible! PAE remains a very important part of the Portland Public Schools today, helping approximately 2,000 adults enhance their education through academic and English language classes, as well as enrichment and workforce classes. The classes PAE offers help adults like you to achieve their educational, professional, and personal goals.”

He said Class of 2024 has shown that its members “know the value of hard work…your class does not intend to stop learning at graduation – 68 percent of you are planning on attending college or returning to PAE next year to build your skills and credentials. Also, the majority of graduates are employed and many of you earned your high school credential to better your career prospects.”

In addition, seven of the 2024 graduates not only earned a diploma this year, but also previously completed PAE Workforce Certificates, giving them the skills and credentials to work in fields such as renewable energy, banking, and healthcare.

Scallon also noted that many of the graduates are the parents of students in PPS elementary, middle and high schools. “Thank you for setting such a positive example of the importance of learning and setting and reaching goals to all our students across the district,” he said.

He also urged the Class of 2024 to join him in thanking PAE teachers, support staff, administration and dedicated volunteers “whose passion and commitment have helped get you where you are today.”

PAE Executive Director Abbie Yamamoto also spoke. She said that each graduate’s path to PAE was unique and that some of the graduates are from Portland but that others came from other places and countries. “There are so many stories behind your accomplishments,” she said. “There are so many stories to be told beyond tonight.”

Two Class of 2024 speakers shared their stories at graduation.

Tiago Augusto is originally from Angola and worked in financial institutions there, developing a passion for finance and economics. He wanted to work in finance in this country and was willing to start at the bottom so he could climb the corporate ladder. He completed both PAE’s Teller Training program, got a job in a credit union and earned a diploma within two years. Augusto also worked as a volunteer interpreter helping not only his own progress but that of other Portuguese-speaking newcomers. At the ceremony, he was among graduates awarded a $1,000 scholarship, which will help him as he continues his studies at Southern Maine Community College. Augusto told his fellow graduates, “When an opportunity comes your way, do not let it slip.” 

Esther Chizoba Nneke was the second speaker. She is originally from Nigeria and she and her family endured passage through the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama and a long interval of homelessness in Portland, but she still managed to earn a diploma in one year and three months. She was well-educated in her home country but lost her important documents during her harrowing journey, so knew she’d have to start over in her new country. She is preparing for a career in healthcare. “May your future be as bright as the path we have forged together,” she told the Class of 2024.

PHOTO: PAE Class of 2024 graduate Semhar Gebrab (left), who won a Community Award from PAE, poses with PAE staff member Heather Moore Wood.

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.