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DHS Holds 146th Commencement Aug. 6

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DHS Holds 146th Commencement Aug. 6
Posted on 08/06/2020
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Deering High School, which describes itself as the most diverse high school north of Boston, held its 146th graduation exercises on Thursday, Aug. 6, at the Ocean Gateway terminal. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the school’s first drive-in ceremony. There were 230 members of the graduating Class of 2020.

The morning ceremony, which lasted about two and one-half hours, included remarks by Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana, Deering Co-Principals Alyson Dame and Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, addresses by students and the presentation of diplomas.

The queuing lanes at Ocean Gateway were full of vehicles filled with students and their families and friends line up in front of a small stage. The graduates walked, wearing masks, from their cars to the stage to receive their diplomas. Raucous honks applauded the speakers and graduates and out in the harbor, the city of Portland’s fireboat gave the Class of 2020 a water salute.

Botana recognized graduates’ disappointment on missing “out on many cherished rituals that you’ve been looking forward to for four years” and for having to celebrate in a parking lot in an “anything but traditional” ceremony.

But he praised the class for persevering through the daunting challenges imposed by the pandemic. “We are very proud of you, Class of 2020, for not only succeeding in graduating from high school, but for the way you have conducted yourselves during this unprecedented time,” Botana said.

He commended the class for many achievements in academics, athletics and activities. He also noted that three-quarters of class members applied to college and have been accepted at 112 institutions of higher learning, including great colleges and universities all across the country and in Maine. Collectively, students won hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and grants.

Botana also told graduates, “Your class has also made its mark outside of school. You have been speaking out about systemic racism and the impact of injustice and inequality in all aspects of life, including in our schools.”

Student speakers also focused their remarks on inequality and injustice.

Deering’s two co-principals yielded most of their speaking time to graduate Selam Desta, a student leader and social justice advocate. Principal Dame said stepping aside for a student was fitting at a time when young people across the country are using their voices to advocate for a better future.

Desta observed that the ceremony was being held on the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law on August 6, 1965. But she said that today voting rights are still a problematic issue for people of color and that there are more Black men in prison today than were enslaved at the time of the Civil War. She urged her fellow classmates to vote. She quoted the late civil rights leader, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who said that voting is the “the most powerful non-violent tool we have.”

Class Salutatorian Glynis O’Meara began her talk by saying that Tamir Rice – a 12-year old Black boy killed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2014 by a white police officer – would have been part of the nation’s Class of 2020 had he not died. Racism is entrenched in every facet of society, including education, health and housing, O’Meara said. She said statistics show that a white person born in 2001, as many in the class were, can expect to live five years longer than a Black classmate.  She said that she and other white people must realize that “the system is rigged for our benefit.” She urged classmates to “show up on Election Day and every other day…We cannot be silent or neutral about racism.”

Valedictorian Sarah Wriggins said that the only way to solve the multitude of problems facing society and the world today was by working together. She urged the Class of 2020 to continue to learn about the issues and to listen to each other. “Make our planet happier and healthier,” she said.