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CBHS’ 12th Commencement on Aug. 6

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CBHS’ 12th Commencement on Aug. 6
Posted on 08/06/2020
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Casco Bay High School held its 12th graduation exercises on Thursday, Aug. 6, at the Ocean Gateway terminal. It was the school’s first drive-in ceremony, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 88 members of the graduating Class of 2020.

Graduates and their families and friends lined up in vehicles in the queuing lanes at Ocean Gateway, facing a small stage. They used their car horns to give the enthusiastic equivalent of standing ovations to speakers and graduates.

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. CBHS consistently ranks as one of the top high schools in Maine.

The school’s non-traditional approach to learning extends to its graduation ceremony. The ceremony typically is characterized more by hugs and humor than pomp and circumstance. Hugs were out and masks were in, because of the pandemic, but there was joking and laughter in this year’s two-hour ceremony.

Superintendent Xavier Botana, whose son is a member of the CBHS Class of 2020, said, “Non-traditional suits Casco just fine.” In his address to students, Botana departed from his usual custom of quoting a famous writer, poet or statesman.

“Today, I’m going off script and I’m going to quote a wise and sage member of this class – my son David,” Botana said. “By the way, he is probably getting out of the car right now and is headed down here to throw something at me. So, I’m going to be fast.”

Botana said his son told him this summer that “Casco has been a good school for me.”

“Now, David rarely talks to me,” Botana said. “So, after I regrouped, I asked him why he thought that.  And he said that the most important thing he’s learned at Casco is how to be a kinder and more patient person. He talked about how incredibly challenging it has been to learn side-by-side with people with vastly different life experiences and find common ground and joy in learning from each other.”

Botana said, “And to me, that was it. He named the essence of Casco: Get smart to do good.”

Botana praised the Class of 2020 for its accomplishments. “You are graduating today with honors and awards. 90 percent of this class has been admitted to college and together you have earned more than $1 million dollars in scholarships and awards.  Many of you are taking alternate paths, work, gap years and other plans.  Among you are amazing scholars, linguists, writers, programmers, thinkers, speakers, musicians, athletes, chefs, technicians, educators, learners and above all, amazing humans.”

He continued, “Humans that have already impacted the world that you live in and will, I know, continue to make a mark on this world.  Whether it’s reversing climate change, standing up to racists or making small gestures of support for each other, this is an exceptional group of young humans that exemplify why I feel confident that the future of our world is a lot brighter than some people would like to believe.”

CBHS Principal Derek Pierce spoke about the importance of “truth seeking and truth sharing.” He said that at a time when society is grappling with the pandemic and political and social unrest, it is increasingly important for everyone to distinguish between what is false and what is the truth. That is something Casco Bay strives to teach students, and Pierce said it is a lesson that the graduates learned well. “If the class of 2020 persists in its truth seeking and truth sharing, and if we follow their lead, then the truths of tomorrow can become better than the truths of today,” Pierce said. 

After the principal’s address, the Class of 2020 presented its gift to the school: seven awnings to enable the school to expand its outdoor classroom space.

Class of 2020 member Siri Pierce, chosen as the class writer, recited a prose poem called “The Spaces We Create.” Joshua Mutshaila, class speaker, spoke of how welcoming he found the staff and students at Casco Bay when he came to the school as a sophomore from South Africa. He said the school taught him that “love and compassion have no limits.”

It is a CBHS tradition for each member of the class to come to the microphone at graduation and deliver some “Final Words,” each graduate sharing a thought on topics such as life, their school experience and the future. Because of COVID, students’ Final Words this year were pre-recorded on video. The Final Words this year included: “I learned that to succeed you must accept failure”; “Instead of waiting for a Prince Charming to save me from a dragon, I decided to slay it myself”; and “Thank you for letting me be myself the past four years, in all the forms I’ve taken.”

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.