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PHS Holds 201st Graduation Ceremony

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PHS Holds 201st Graduation Ceremony
Posted on 06/01/2022
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Portland High School, one of the oldest operating public high schools in the United States, held its 201st graduation exercises on Wednesday, June 1, at Merrill Auditorium. The late morning ceremony included remarks by Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana and Portland High Principal Sheila Jepson, addresses by students, and the presentation of awards and diplomas.

Botana said, “You 202 graduates today are part of more than two centuries of tradition at this distinguished institution. However, the Class of 2022 stands out because your time in high school has been non-traditional in so many ways.”

He praised the class for their resilience in continuing to work hard to learn and achieve despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, including remote learning, required masking and quarantines. “Even though COVID-19 upended your lives, this class has persevered with amazing determination to reach this milestone today,” Botana said. “You graduates kept your eyes on the prize, and continued successfully to complete your coursework to make it to graduation. Many of you also have had outstanding achievements in academics, athletics and other activities.”

He congratulated the Class of 2022 collectively for a variety of accomplishments, such as being accepted by many institutions of higher learning, including elite colleges and universities across the country and in Maine, and winning more than $2 million in scholarships and grants.

“But most of all,” Botana said, “I want to commend each and every graduate for their persistence – for the way you didn’t give up on your educational goals in the face of daunting challenges. Whatever you set out to do next, this trait will help you accomplish it.”

Valedictorian George Theall also praised his classmates for doing their best to “find the new normal” during the pandemic. Although they went through a difficult time, he encouraged them to remember the positive aspects of the experience. He recounted how his family adopted “quarantine kittens” and how he was able to continue to practice sports and form a study group of friends, with whom he forged close bonds. He described how he and his friends lightheartedly wrote a letter to the sun one day.

Theall urged fellow members of the Class of 2022 to take the positive attitudes and social skills they developed to get through the last few challenging years and use them to succeed in the future. “Write your own letter to the sun and tell it that it will not be the only shining star in the sky any more,” he said.

Salutatorian Amy Ayer described how, while feeling lonely freshman year, she had lunch with some students that she didn’t know – a situation that started out awkward but soon turned into an experience in which she felt like she belonged. “Today, some of my closest friends are the people sitting at that table freshman year,” she said.

She likened her time at Portland High School to being at a table of welcoming teachers, classmates and opportunities like drama club. “We have all experienced community here,” Ayer said. She encouraged her classmates to “bring the table with us, wherever we go,” and use it as a foundation of fellowship to share with and listen to others and welcome them into their lives.

Principal Jepson said she could tell the Class of 2022 was unique by the music students chose. For example, she said, their class song was Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” Words of encouragement in the song include, “Just know you’re not alone/Cause I’m going to make this place your home.”

“Class of 2022, we’ll miss you,” Jepson said. “I look forward to seeing how your life is unfolding in the years ahead.”

Jepson also announced the winners of the prestigious Brown Memorial Medal, unique to Portland High School. The silver medal was established in the 1864 will of Portland businessman J.B. Brown to honor his son. The award now goes to students who are the top 10 academically in their class. This year’s winners were: George Theall; Amy Ayer; Seneca Ward-Bailey; Theresa Conroy; Luc Dietlin; Isabelle Moran; Taysia Blazejewski; Sophia Gardner; Anna Behuniak; and Meribel Collin.

View the ceremony HERE. See 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.