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CBHS Holds 13th Graduation Ceremony

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CBHS Holds 13th Graduation Ceremony
Posted on 06/04/2021
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Casco Bay High School held its 13th graduation exercises on Thursday, June 3, at Merrill Auditorium. As has been true of all CBHS commencement ceremonies, the event was a mix of traditional pomp and circumstance and the unconventional. For example, Principal Derek Pierce did a cha-cha dance on the stage in the middle of his graduation remarks and the Class of 2021 followed suit.

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 ranks as one of the top high schools in Maine.

The school’s non-traditional approach to learning extends to its graduation ceremony. Accolades were interspersed with jokes and laughter. Although masks were worn, hugs were freely given this year with COVID-19 restrictions reduced due to vaccinations and lower case counts. The indoor, in-person evening ceremony contrasted with last year’s outdoor drive-in ceremony,

Superintendent Xavier Botana told the 89 graduates, “I’m so glad that Casco Bay High School is able to hold its lucky 13th, always unconventional, commencement ceremony tonight in the traditional way – in person, at beautiful Merrill Auditorium. One of the things l love about Casco is its ability to blend the traditional with contemporary in a scintillating fusion. I am so thankful that we will be able to experience that again and that we won’t upend this cherished ritual for you guys this year.”

He said the traditional venue stood out “because so much else in your senior year was definitely upended. We are very proud of you, Class of 2021, for the way you have conducted yourselves during this hardest of years.”

Botana praised class members for all they accomplished, despite the challenges. “You are graduating today with honors and awards,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of your class applied to college and 99 percent were accepted. That’s fantastic, especially this year. Now many of you are headed to institutions of higher learning, including great colleges and universities all across the country and in Maine. You have earned nearly one million dollars in scholarships and awards. Amazing! Others of you are taking alternate paths, such as gap years to pursue a passion and/or work.”

He told them, “Above all, 89 amazing humans are graduating today. 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, seeing and standing up to racism or supporting each other, I know that you will continue to represent the ethos of Casco to “get smart to do good.”

Pierce also spoke about the challenges graduates had to overcome, due to the pandemic. “The Class of 2021 endured a compulsory gap year from their youth,” he said. After three years of expeditionary learning, he said, students spent their senior year “isolated, masked and muted.”

Now, he said, “we’re in Merrill Auditorium, people, and I’m thrilled to be in person with all of you.” He urged his listeners to raise their hands if the gathering at the ceremony was the largest crowd they’d been in since March 14, 2020 – and many did.

With COVID restrictions rapidly being lifted, Pierce said,“it’s another time of rapid, dizzying transformation.” He urged students to embrace the new freedoms granted to the vaccinated and have a cha-cha day – or year, or lifetime – in which they again “dance with the world.” Pierce then demonstrated a celebratory dance he said he did recently in an aisle at Wahlgreen’s while buying some toilet paper and the whole class followed by dancing too.

“The Class of 2021 is primed to cha-cha,” Pierce told the graduates. “You can both better the world and make your joy.”

Class speaker Margarida Celestino thanked teachers, family and friends for supporting them. “Now, my dear Class of 2021, breathe,” she said. “You have made it, we have made it.” She said the past year, “felt like riding a bicycle with no training wheels and no pedals.”  But class had demonstrated that hard work pays off, Margarida said.

She advised class members to “remember to carpe diem,” and make the most of life’s experiences. “I can’t wait to see what this class has in store,” she said.

Yusur Jasim, class writer, read a poem she wrote, titled “Ode to the Great Space,” which told how that large gathering place at the school gradually become to feel like a community space to her.

Class member Tasha Hipple presented the class gift: a mural with the sun at the center that the Class of 2021 painted at the school. She said it is designed to give positivity and joy to other students.

It is a CBHS tradition for each graduate to come to the microphone at graduation and deliver some “Final Words,” a sentence or two on topics such as life, their school experience and the future. The Final Words this year included: “Thank you, Casco Bay, for being my greenhouse”; “I used to be scared of what’s coming next. Now I’m excited”; and “The biggest thing Casco has taught me is how to make change in the world, and in myself.”

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.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with 6,500 students, and is 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 more than 60 languages. 52 percent of the district’s students are white and 48 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced school meals.