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Portland High Holds 196th Commencement Ceremony June 8

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Portland High Holds 196th Commencement Ceremony June 8
Posted on 06/08/2017
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Portland High School, the second oldest operating public high school in the United States, held its 196th graduation exercises on Thursday, June 8, at Merrill Auditorium. There were 156 graduates in the Class of 2017.

The ceremony included remarks by Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana, live music performed by students, the presentation of awards and diplomas and addresses by students. The auditorium was packed with students’ families and friends and school district staff. Also in attendance was Mayor Ethan Strimling.

Botana talked about what “makes Portland High special.” He cited not only academic and athletic successes, but also examples of community service on the part of PHS seniors: such as taking part Jan. 1 in a Polar Plunge on Old Orchard Beach to benefit Special Olympics; volunteering at Preble Street serving meals; and fundraising for coats and warm clothes for needy families.

“Another reason Portland High School stands out is its commitment to fundamental American values,” Botana said. For instance, Botana noted that PHS’ Civil Rights Team started the Grey Ribbon Project because students were concerned about the polarized politics dividing the country. The Grey Ribbon Project encourages respectful conversation coming from a place in the middle as opposed to black-or-white thinking.

Botana also noted that the Class of 2017 has seven pairs of siblings as graduates – four sets of twins and three of siblings. “Portland High School is truly a family,” he said.

Salutatorian Rose Griffin built her speech around reflections on her childhood belief in fairies. She began by quoting Winston Churchill, who said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Rose said it is a challenge to know when to speak out and when to listen, but she said it also is “a challenge we all can learn.”

She explained how as a second-grader at Longfellow Elementary School who loved to build fairy houses, she got upset when classmate insisted fairies didn’t exist. Now, as a member of the Class of 2017, Griffin said she is returning to her original stance about fairies because such a belief is really “about the importance of imagination.” She said imagination leads to the optimism and innovation necessary to solve the world’s many problems.

Rose urged her classmates to have the courage to stand up for causes and also to sit and listen when needed. She noted that they didn’t have to start out by saving the world, but with something small. “Start by believing in fairies,” she said.

Valedictorian Peter Barry spoke about the value of learning from others. For example, Peter said that from Portland High School’s diverse student population, “I have learned the necessity of an open mindset.”

He credited his family for teaching him many values. Peter said his older brother taught him compassion, by modeling kindness instead of anger when Peter did things to aggravate him. From his sister’s work ethic when it came to schoolwork, Peter said he “learned to work passionately, always push the boundaries and take pride in everything I do.” 

Another brother taught him how to balance schoolwork and free time. Peter said he learned that taking time off from his studies to enjoy himself sometimes was not only necessary but that it also made him more productive. He advised the Class of 2017: “Never stop learning from others, the people around you.”

PHS students won many accolades, and more than $1 million in awards and scholarships. However, standing out as particularly special is the prestigious Brown Memorial Medal, said PHS Principal Sheila Jepson. The silver medal was established in the 1864 will of Portland businessman J.B. Brown to honor his son. Each year, 10 of the medals are awarded to Portland High School students at graduation – five to outstanding female students and five to outstanding male students. This year’s winners are: Peter Barry; Rose Griffin; Peter Gribizis; Margaret Hosmer; Nicholas Archambault; Ellianna Boothe; Jacob Knop; Barbara Hersey-Powers; Alexander Frank; and Evelyn Kirby.

For the second year in a row, the district was able to provide simultaneous translation of the graduation ceremony in the most common languages spoken by the families of students in the district, to those that requested it.

Also, click HERE for a list of the PHS Class of 2017 Top 10 students.
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