Class of 2017: Mt. Ararat senior gains independence on field trip

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TOPSHAM — A field trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, turned out not to be just educational for Joe Beale, but a rite of passage.

Beale, a Topsham resident who graduates from Mt. Ararat High School on Sunday, June 11, spent kindergarten through eighth grade at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick. He could have continued the private school route at Cheverus High School in Portland or St. Dominic Academy in Auburn, but chose to enter the public school system at Mt. Ararat.

“I wanted to try something different than the normal Catholic school … and it’s been a great fit,” he said, noting that the proximity of his home to Mt. Ararat was convenient as well.

Since he’d participated in sports in Topsham, Beale already had a network of friends within the School Administrative District 75 community, which broadened once he started at Mt. Ararat.

“Socially, the transition was as smooth as it could have gone,” he said, although one major challenge he faced was using a MacBook computer for the first time.

Perhaps a greater challenge, though, was Beale’s November 2015 trip to Gettysburg – his first time away without oversight by his family. Maybe not a big deal for some, but given his allergies to a variety of foods – dairy, nuts and shellfish – it was a potentially serious situation.

“That was one of the big transitions,” Beale recalled. “In the very intimate community of St. John’s, when I had 16 kids in my whole class, everybody knew (to) be safe. But coming to Mt. Ararat I had to learn to advocate for myself, and be more careful, obviously. I’ve never been able to get school lunch, so I just always bring my lunch.”

Beale had to plan ahead before the three-day trip to Gettysburg, in part by calling to make sure safe foods would be available.

“I brought a lot of my own food, but I was also able to eat a lot of food down there,” he said. “… That was my big trip without my parents, and learning how to deal with food. … It was a great experience.”

An Eagle Scout, Beale volunteers with Midcoast Hunger Prevention and for years helped with the St. John’s Annual Bazaar. He also performs community service as vice president of Mt. Ararat’s National Honor Society, including work with the Topsham-based Cathance River Education Alliance.

Beale, who will attend College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, is on Mt. Ararat’s track and golf teams, and served as a manager of the basketball team.

“Joe is liked and appreciated by all,” Principal Donna Brunette said in an email May 15. “A person of character who has a great story to tell and without question will achieve great things.”

During his four years at Mt. Ararat, Beale has learned a lot about how to deal with different groups of people.

“You meet all types of different people from different socioeconomic levels and different outlooks on life, and dealing with different opinions,” he said. “As you’re growing and becoming more aware of the world, just learning how to have good conversations and not attacking people.”

His advanced placement government class was “very fun to have this year” during the recent presidential election, Beale said.

If he was asked to give advice to students embarking on their high school career, Beale would suggest, “Be yourself, be open, be willing to make connections, be nice, work hard, and get involved.

“That worked out pretty well for me here.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Joe Beale, of Topsham, who graduates from Mt. Ararat High School June 11, found a field trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to be something of a rite of passage in his journey to become an independent adult.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.