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Casco Bay High School Holds Commencement Exercises June 8

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Casco Bay High School Holds Commencement Exercises
Posted on 06/09/2017
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Casco Bay High School held its 9th graduation exercises on Thursday, June 8, at Merrill Auditorium. There were 93 members of the graduating Class of 2017.

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.

The school’s non-traditional approach to learning extends to its graduation ceremony every year. The ceremony this year included the students providing a lighthearted addendum to Principal Derek Pierce’s address that included the students singing and dancing. Hugs and humor made up much more of the evening ceremony than did pomp and circumstance.

In his remarks, Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana praised the Class of 2017 for numerous accomplishments, noting how the school’s three core values of Rigor, Relevance and Relationships had shaped students.

He also said he was proud of CBHS students for their response when a hate crime was committed earlier this year against four of their fellow students as they waited for the bus on Allen Avenue. CBHS students held a Walk of Solidarity a few days later. “You decided to stare down intolerance, hate and fear and stand instead for brotherhood, peace and support,” Botana said. 

Botana noted that the Walk of Solidarity gained state and national recognition. CBHS students and staff also were honored in May with a Maine Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award for their leadership of the walk.

In his address to students, Pierce called the Class of 2017 superheroes. He played audio recordings that some members of the class made when they attended Nathan Clifford Elementary School as children. The student called themselves the SOS Kids, and talked about the superpowers they had to combat Darkness and his Evil Robot, who were trying to take over the world.

Today, Pierce said, “it does seem like we need superheroes more than ever.” He said at times it seems as though “Darkness and his Evil Robot are ready to take over the world," but he said he feels encouraged because “the Class of 2017 represents a new, distinct and necessary breed of superhero.” Pierce said class members don’t look like classic superheroes –“some are of color and some wear hijabs,” for instance – but he said the students still possess superpowers that range from understanding and empathy to outstanding abilities in subjects such as music and neuroscience.

He concluded by urging students to use their superpowers to “vanquish darkness and evil in all its forms. Finish what we adults could not.”

He had barely finished speaking when his daughter, Liva Pierce, one of the graduates, marched up to the lectern and teasingly told him that he had given an “old guy speech” that wasn’t dramatic enough. That was a cue for the class of 2017 to start dancing and singing about how students are “always disappointed with what adults say” on graduation day, so they needed to start something new. The students ended up singing, “We’re all in this together…to make our dreams come true.”

A group of students then presented the Class of 2017’s gift to the school, which was helping to transform the third floor into an art gallery with display spaces for all types of art, including sculptures.

Senior Grace Callahan, chosen as the class writer, said that the Class of 2017 had forged a “collective consciousness” that would be taken by students “on our individual journeys.”

Another senior, Machar Nguany, was class speaker. He said he had “found a family” at CBHS that he knew he could always depend on. He told his classmates: “Class of 2017, the world is truly ours.”

All the members of the Class of 2017 delivered some “final words,” each sharing a thought on topics such as life, their school experience and the future as they graduated. The Final Words included “I hope to spread my music like a virus;” “We are the change-makers of the world;” and “Throughout my four years at Casco Bay, I have become a strong, black Muslim woman.”

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 auditorium’s seats were filled with students’ families and friends and staff. Mayor Ethan Strimling and Portland Board of Education members also were in attendance.
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