PORTLAND — It’s a long way from Brisbane, Australia, to Portland.
But for Australian Laura Blue, the journey from high school dropout to high school graduate was even more difficult and arduous.
Blue is technically enrolled at Portland High School, but found her true academic home at the Portland Arts and Technology High School, or PATHS, which will celebrate graduation Friday, May 19.
Blue, 18, left everything behind, including family and friends, when she decided to move from Australia to the East Coast of the United States. She now lives on her own, sharing a house on Peaks Island with a roommate.
Blue works several jobs to pay her rent and other expenses, but said what’s great about graduating from the automotive tech program at PATHS is that she’s now learned skills she can take anywhere in the world.
She dropped out of secondary school in Australia at the age of 16 and spent about two years working for the Rocklea Truck Electrical company in Queensland, which is where she first learned to be a mechanic.
Blue is the first to admit that she made a series of bad mistakes, which included falling in with the wrong crowd, doing drugs and “a lot of other stupid stuff I shouldn’t have.” It led to dropping out of school and breaking with her family.
However, she also knew early on that she was a hands-on learner, and if graduating from high school required writing a lot of essays or taking a lot of tests with a pencil, she likely wouldn’t ever earn a diploma.
That’s what makes her graduation from PATHS so special and such a milestone.
“This is an accomplishment,” Blue said, adding, “It will be nice to have that piece of paper in my back pocket.”
After getting the opportunity pick up her life and start completely over, Blue said she’s now “happy with myself and who I am. I am a survivor. I’m me and that makes me proud.”
Even though it’s been hard living on her own – she is not often able to go to a movie or get a slice of pizza with her peers, for example – Blue also said it was a gift to be able to “go somewhere new and start completely over. I’ve now covered my scars.”
Blue’s parents are originally from Snowville, New Hampshire, so when she decided to come to the U.S. she asked relatives to pick her up at Logan International Airport in Boston and take her “home.”
But even then, Blue lived on her own and worked to pay her expenses. It was a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision to move to Peaks Island last summer and then re-enroll in high school.
That turned out to be an important decision, particularly after Blue found out about PATHS, where she could “learn, get dirty and have fun.” She’s the only female student in her Automotive II class, but she wasn’t intimidated.
In addition to finding her niche at PATHS, Blue’s academic credits from her secondary school in Australia were accepted by Portland High School, which meant she could graduate at 18 and not have to go to school for another year.
While the goal at PATHS, Portland’s accredited career and technical educational program, is to either get students a job right out of school or encourage them to attend a community or four-year college, Blue has no specific plans.
“We’ll see where the world takes me,” she said. “I don’t ever plan ahead. I just want to be self-sufficient, never owe anyone anything and be able to be me. “Everyone says, ‘I regret.’ I don’t ever want to say that. I want to do it all.”
Meanwhile, she has “plenty of work doing odd jobs out on the island” and taking shifts at Flatbread Company, a specialty pizza restaurant on Portland’s waterfront. She may even try her hand at lobstering this summer.
In her limited free time, Blue enjoys playing sports. This past winter, for instance, she challenged herself by playing on the girls’ ice hockey team at Portland High – despite the fact that she’d never learned to skate.
In Australia, Blue also liked to surf, but that’s not something she’s tried here; declaring the water to be way too cold.
“Not many other kids live on their own and go to school,” she said. “More stuff has already happened to me than most adults have ever experienced. What I’ve learned is that life is precious. It can be gone in a moment, so you have to make every second count.”
Laura Blue, 18, will graduate from PATHS on May 19. She has no immediate plans for the future, but said she can take the skills she’s learned anywhere in the world.