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CBHS Holds Its 14th Graduation Ceremony

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CBHS Holds Its 14th Graduation Ceremony
Posted on 06/06/2022
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Casco Bay High School held its 14th graduation exercises on Thursday, June 2, at Merrill Auditorium. CBHS commencement ceremonies typically mix traditional pomp and circumstance with the unconventional, and this year’s evening event for the 86 members of the Class of 2022 was no exception.

“I like to say that Casco Bay High School graduation is ‘graduation meets variety show,’” said Superintendent Xavier Botana, who was among those addressing the graduates.

For example, in addition to spirited musical performances, the event also included some students traveling across the stage with a cardboard boat as a prop.

Social studies teacher Stephanie Doane teased the school’s beloved principal, Derek Pierce, in the lead-up to his speech to graduates. She said everyone in the school wonders: “How could one person be so brilliant and yet so fashion-impaired?” Pierce’s clothing and curly hair often look rumpled.

Doane also praised Pierce for “maintaining his vision of excellent teaching and learning and remaining a generous and caring person” throughout the challenges of the pandemic. “He is our true North,” she said.

Pierce got a standing ovation when he stepped to the podium. He began his speech by blowing on a wooden whistle shaped like a squirrel, saying it was the “call to commune” for the crew he advised for the past four years. He explained that “crew” is an important part of EL Education.

CBHS, founded in 2005, is part of the EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) network. CBHS students engage in project-based learning expeditions.

Pierce said the idea behind crew is that in “the boat journey of life,” students should strive not to be passive passengers but the crew, determining the boat’s direction through communication and collaboration. Students are grouped into a crew led by a faculty advisor throughout their time at the high school, and develop tight bonds over the years through the time and experiences they share with their fellow crew members.

Pierce described how crew members supported each other – and staff – through the pandemic and other challenges. For example, his crew held a group text chat each day during the early days of the pandemic to check in on each other, and another crew knitted a scarf together over Zoom, which they later used to comfort each other. And he said that when his father recently passed away, his crew “knew to console me with chocolates.”

Crews aren’t perfect, Pierce noted. “I know I have likely hurt each member of the crew with something I have said or done,” he said. But when such hurts happen, he said, crew members work to acknowledge the harm, make reparations if possible and strive to do better. He said crew is about “tackling hard challenges together,” but that the Class of 2022 also used crew to create joy together, doing such things as playing a giant UNO game outdoors, complete with giant cards.

“Our world needs a whole lot more crews,” Pierce concluded.

Botana praised the graduates for the way they persevered through remote learning, masks, quarantining and the other unprecedented challenges they faced due to COVID-19.

“You persisted, and have made it to graduation prepared and empowered for the next phase of your lives,” Botana told the class. “And in overcoming those challenges and making it to this point you have gained greater resilience. I believe you’ll find that being resilient is a kind of “superpower” that will benefit you not only in college and career, but also throughout your lives.”

He noted that the Class of 2022 was graduating with honors and awards and that many are headed to great colleges and universities nationwide and in Maine. They earned nearly $1 million in scholarships and awards. He also encouraged class members to recognize and be grateful for the support they received from the school’s faculty and staff and from their families and other supporters.

Botana quoted Maya Angelou, poet and civil rights activist, who said it may be necessary to undergo challenges and setbacks in life “so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, [and] how you can still come out of it.”

Botana concluded, “Casco Bay High School class of 2022, I know who you are: strong, determined and resilient human beings. I cannot wait to see what you will continue to achieve.”

The ceremony also included the presentation of the Class of 2022’s gift to the school – a new stage for the Great Space, the hub of the school where everyone gathers.

Class writer Megan Koren read a short piece she authored, titled “When a Wall’s Not a Wall.” It reflected how the Class of 2022 worked to overcome the challenges of the past few years.

Class speaker Fabio Caciel-Reyes talked about how the hard experiences the class underwent during high school helped them mature and become role models over the past four years. “We were little monsters but we have blossomed into giants,” he said.

Before diplomas were awarded, each member of the class came to the microphone to share their “Final Word,” a sentence or two on topics such as life and their school experience. Final Words this year included: “I got back to the student I knew I was and who I expected to be,” “Over the last four years, I taught myself how to breathe,” and “I never expected to find a community, but I did.”

As the graduates received their diplomas, a large screen displayed their future college and career plans and what they’ll be remembered for – attributes both funny and serious.

Watch the ceremony on YouTube. View the program.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 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 50 languages. 51 percent of the district’s students are white and 49 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.