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PAE Holds 170th Graduation Exercises

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PAE Holds 170th Graduation Exercises
Posted on 07/11/2018
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At the graduation ceremony for the Portland Adult Education (PAE) Class of 2018, class speaker Susan Pita Duku urged her fellow graduates: “Don’t give up and don’t shy away from achieving your goals.”

The ceremony, held June 28 at Merrill Auditorium, was PAE’s 170th commencement. PAE has been educating Portland adults since 1848. Graduating were 34 students who attained high school diplomas and 85 students who passed the HiSET test (formerly GED).

PAE graduates can range in age from their late teens to retirement age and beyond. They haven’t taken the usual route to high school graduation for reasons that include illness, disability, working full-time to support their families, coming to a new country where they didn’t speak the language, homelessness and war. Sometimes, PAE students have already completed high school or college, but in another country and in another language.

Rochelle Yanike Hale, a PAE staff member and master of ceremonies during the graduation exercises, said that what all PAE graduates have in common is that they are “resourceful and driven to excel.”

Duku, 42, was one of two class speakers. She spent years in a camp in Kenya as a refugee from South Sudan before arriving in the United States in 2012 with her three children and four nieces and nephews. In spite of these responsibilities, Duku chose to begin to earn a high school diploma in 2015. Neither a serious back injury, nor struggles with progressing in English prevented her from continuing with her studies. Duku also volunteered at least 560 hours in her church when she needed only 90 hours to earn a credit.

In her speech at graduation, Duku spoke about living in the refugee camp for nine years, having only beans and corn to eat and hearing gunshots and people crying. “I am happy to live here in the peaceful state of Maine,” she said. She thanked all those who supported her effort to earn her diploma, including her children, who she said encouraged her to attend school.

The other class speaker was Awaleh Idriss Ibrahim, 30, who completed nearly 30 courses in 18 months to earn not only a high school diploma, but also certificates in office skills and accounting at PAE. During that interval, he worked full time, became a father to a second child, and settled into life in the U.S. as a refugee from Djibouti. Ibrahim will be attending Southern Maine Community College to study accounting and he plans to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in the field and become a certified public accountant.

Ibrahim expressed thanks to “my beautiful wife, who is my life,” and said his family is proud to be in Maine, where his two children were born. He congratulated his fellow classmates and said, “I believe that everything depends on us and that nothing is impossible in life.”

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana addressed the graduates, speaking about “the vital role that PAE plays in the viability of Portland as a community.” He said that “every dollar we invest in our adult education programs is not just a dollar invested in the students at PAE. It is a dollar invested in their children, in their families and in our community… it is an investment in the future of Portland.”

Botana, who formerly taught English as a second language, recalled how many of his young students’ parents were taking adult education classes to better themselves, despite often working two or more jobs while raising a family. “Like you,” Botana told the graduates, “they understood that education is the gateway to a better life in this country.”

He concluded by telling the graduates that they are role models. “Through your perseverance, you are showing your children that education is something worth persevering for.”

The ceremony also included remarks from PAE Director Anita St. Onge, who congratulated the graduates and thanked PAE supporters, including the Friends of Portland Adult Education and the more than 200 volunteers who coach and tutor students. “We are deeply grateful for your service,” St. Onge said.

Numerous awards were presented to PAE students at the ceremony.

PAE staff members entertained the graduates and the audience by performing a song titled “You Will Thrive,” set to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

Also in attendance at the ceremony were representatives from the Portland Board of Public Education and City Council and state Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, who is a member of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

PAE, which is part of the Portland Public Schools, typically serves more than 4,000 adults each year, in academic and ELL classes, as well as enrichment and job skills classes.
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