Casco Bay High School senior marches to his own beat

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PORTLAND — For Ness Smith Savedoff, Casco Bay High School has been a place of self exploration as much as a place to learn basic literacy skills.

Savedoff said when he entered CBHS as a freshman, wearing bell-bottoms and a long pony tail, the school accepted him without judgment. The following year, when the drummer wore a Mohawk and took on the stage name “the Animal” in his funk band, the school welcomed him again.

“(CBHS has) been a wall I’ve been able to bounce stuff off,” Savedoff said. “I’ve grown so much, and it’s always respected that.”

On Wednesday, June 2, Savedoff will be one of 45 students walking down the aisle as part of the school’s second graduation ceremony, which starts at 6 p.m., at Merrill Auditorium. The National Honors Society member will graduate with highest honors. 

At graduation, Savedoff will unveil a sound collage of interviews with his classmates. This summer, he will intern at Maine Public Broadcasting Network, where last year he produced a story about teen smoking that aired throughout the region.

“Ness is a top scholar and leader in our second graduating class,” CBHS Principal Derek Pierce said. “In a class discussion, Ness may be the first to offer an idea. Later in class, he will also be the first to invite the perspectives of those who may not yet had a chance to speak.”

As Savedoff has grown over the last four years, he has also contributed to the growth of Portland’s newest high school, founded in 2005.

CBHS did not have a music program during Savedoff’s freshman year. So after forming a band to get his music fix outside of school, he decided to devote his energy to bringing in professional musicians to work with students.

With the help of teachers, Savedoff reached out to Vermont-based Village Harmony, which runs summer camps that teach children choral music and sends them on tour – all over the course of about two to three weeks.

Savedoff said the group came to the school and taught students, including English Language Learners, an entire concert’s worth of music in a week. The group then sang for the school.

“It was a fascinating experience for me,” he said.

Outside of class, Savedoff teamed with with five other students from four different high schools to form Dysfunctional Mayhem, a funk band that recorded two albums before breaking up last year.

The group placed second in last year’s Rock Off competition, but a freak stow storm in Texas stranded Savedoff, the drummer, in Mississippi, where he and fellow juniors were working on a Habitat for Humanity project.

“We placed second with our piano player on drums,” he said. “I feel confident and have a big enough of a ego to say we would have won had I been there.”

Next year, Savedoff will be attending Oberlin College, a liberal arts school in Ohio, where he will study music and politics. 

The 18-year-old already has experience in the latter, having served a term as a student representative on the Portland School Committee and as a diplomat on the Model United Nations team.

Savedoff said his appetite for politics started when he was attending elementary school in Switzerland, while his father was working for the World Health Organization.

As a candidate in a mock election, Savedoff said he promised his classmates that he would build a pool on the gym roof. Despite being elected, Savedoff was unable to deliver on his promise, but that experience, coupled with serving long hours on the School Committee, taught him an important lesson.

“I know you need good people in positions of power,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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Ness Smith Savedoff made his mark at Casco Bay High School in Portland through music and politics. He and nearly 50 others will graduate on June 2 at Merrill Auditorium.

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