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DHS Holds 147th Commencement on June 2

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DHS Holds 147th Commencement on June 2
Posted on 06/02/2021
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Deering High School held its 147th graduation exercises on Wednesday, June 2, at Memorial Stadium. The Class of 2021 wore masks and members were seated a safe physical distance from each other as precautions against COVID-19, but graduates celebrated being able to hold a more traditional in-person ceremony than the pandemic allowed last year.

The sunny weather contributed to the festive mood at the two-hour ceremony, which began at 11 a.m. “I know this outdoor stadium wasn’t our first choice as a place to celebrate almost a century and a half of tradition,” Superintendent Xavier Botana told the 213 graduates. “But last year’s drive-in graduations showed us that it’s not the venue. Rather, it’s the joy of the experience of being here together and celebrating in community that makes this day special. And, boy, did you guys deserve a special day. It’s nice of Mother Nature to cooperate.”

He continued: “We are very proud of you, Class of 2021, for how you’ve handled this hardest of years.” He detailed the challenges they faced. “You have missed out on many of the cherished rituals of senior and junior years. You have learned in settings that were less than ideal – cramped at times, unstable at times, lonely most of the time,” he said. “And we have asked you to sacrifice in order to preserve the health and safety of your classmates, your teachers and your families.”

Botana praised the students for their persistence in overcoming those challenges and making it to graduation. He quoted an ancient Chinese proverb: “A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a person perfected without trials.”

“Class of 2021, you have taken a serious polishing over the past two years. And from that you rise as stronger, more precious and more perfected gems,” Botana said, to applause from the students.

He commended the class for many achievements in academics, athletics and activities. About two-thirds of the class applied to college, and many are headed to institutions of higher learning, including great colleges and universities in Maine and all across the country. Class members also won more than a half a million dollars in scholarships and grants.

Deering Assistant Principal James Moses also praised the graduates for their resilience. “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade…,” Moses said. “The pandemic did not take your spirit or diminish your talent. You made lemonade.”

Co-Principals Alyson Dame and Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed spoke only briefly because it has become a tradition at Deering, a student-centered school, for principals to yield their speaking time at graduation to students. Dame told graduates they should always think of Deering as their home base. “You come from a uniquely diverse school in a nation of segregated schools,” she said. Deering, which bills itself as the most diverse high school north of Boston, strives to be a school where everyone is respected and valued as part of the community, Dame said.

The co-principals chose Class of 2021 member Lea Yere Kasongo as the class speaker. She said she arrived in the United States four years ago not knowing any English. She is originally from Ivory Coast and spoke French and Italian. She said the Class of 2021 had looked forward to senior year, but saw many plans dashed, due to the pandemic. “At times our school year felt like a total disaster,” Lea said, “but it could be worse. The Class of 2020 graduated in a parking lot.”

Lea thanked Deering teachers and other staff for “making our school days as normal as possible and for keeping us safe.” She said students learned over the past year to turn “pain to wisdom, fear to courage and suffering to strength.” She urged graduates to continue to speak out on issues of racial justice. “Class of 2021, we are here to take on what the world brings us,” Lea said.

Salutatorian Aidan Blum Levine also praised teachers, who he said worked very hard to “make sure we could still learn and enjoy learning as much as possible.” He said students had to work collectively with their class and teachers to succeed. He noted that it was through people working collectively that the vaccine was created and social justice issues are being confronted. “At Deering, we learned to foster this collaboration and gain a global perspective on issues,” Aidan said.

Valedictorian Linh Nguyen began her speech by asking for a moment of silence to remember former classmate Blain Alves, who died as the result of an accident in May 2020.

Linh praised Deering staff, ranging from administrators to custodians, for their work to keep the school running smoothly over the past year. She specially thanked teachers, who she said “did a fantastic job teaching us or we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

She said the “richly diverse Deering Class of 2021” has involved itself in the past four years in issues that include racial justice, climate change and economic disparity. Linh said she believes the class will continue to work to make a difference, in ways that include showing up at the polls, marching or helping a friend in need. 

Linh quoted a favorite poem by Walt Whitman, “O Me! O Life!,” that she learned while at Deering. One line compares life to a play in which we have a role: “… the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” She concluded her speech with: “Class of 2021, what will your verse be?”

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 lunch.
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