Forecaster Forum: Portland schools celebrate their 2012 graduates

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Students graduating this year from the Portland Public Schools have fascinating and moving stories about their paths to a diploma.

Many of our 2012 graduates have squeezed an incredible amount of living into their short lives. Some faced significant challenges, such as living with a degenerative disease, helping to care for younger siblings or acclimating to a new country. Some have achieved at the highest level in their academic work and excelled in sports while still finding time to volunteer on community projects. They’ve tutored classmates who are learning English, promoted recycling and worked to win greater acceptable for gay and lesbian students.

As we celebrate all of our graduates, here are just a few stories about the students who have earned diplomas this year:

• Vanessa Graviss discovered her love of baking as a freshman at Deering High School. “It was a way for me to express my creativity,” she says.

Vanessa enrolled in Portland Arts and Technology High School’s Culinary Concepts program, and she turned her avocation into a money-making business. She had her home kitchen certified by the state so that she could cook and sell her baked goods as an independent contractor. Vanessa now bakes for Good Eats Boutique in Deering Center, Hannaford Bros. and other businesses, making cakes in the shape of everything from race cars to alligators and tackle boxes. Next year, she will attend Lincoln Culinary Institute in Hartford, Conn.

• Isaac Jaegerman ranked third in his class at Portland High School, taking a rigorous schedule that included Advanced Placement classes. He was instrumental in starting the school’s Debate Club, and he finished sixth in the state debating competition. He also participated for four years in the Portland High Science Bowl and on the tennis team.

Isaac wrote an essay that won $2,500 for Portland High’s science department, and he received a scholarship to participate in a cultural exchange program in South Korea. He volunteered as a teacher’s aide in an English as a Second Language class throughout his senior year, and he helped resurrect a school-wide peer tutoring program. Isaac will attend Bowdoin College.

• At age 8, Fowziyo Jama helped save her mother’s life when she was shot by a robber outside a Kenyan refugee camp. Now Fowziyo has graduated as one of Casco Bay High School’s most accomplished students and she will be the first in her family to attend college.

Fowziyo earned academic honors in science, math, English, social studies, French and wellness. While in high school, she also passed the Certified Nurse Aide exam. For her senior expedition, she researched the impact of tribalism on the Somali community and created a documentary. She premiered the film as part of a community dialogue that she orchestrated. Next year, she will study at Emory University in Atlanta.

• Wei Ma immigrated to the United States from China with his family at age 7. He proved to be an excellent student. While at Deering High School, he took college courses in anatomy, physiology and biology, and he participated in the National Genomics Research Initiative.

For several years, Wei has served as a medical interpreter for the Chinese community. He successfully lobbied to be allowed to enroll in emergency medical technician/paramedic training and will be a certified EMT this spring. He loves classical music, Chinese literature and fixing computers. Wei will attend Colby College.

• Ayesha Baye, 35, joined a Portland Adult Education family literacy program in 2001. A refugee from Ethiopia and a parent to two small children, she articulated five goals to her teacher: Get a library card, become a citizen, improve her English, find a better job in a bank or post office, and get her GED.

Within the first year, Baye had met her first two goals. She has been working at Key Bank for eight years, and her English has improved dramatically. Two years ago, she returned to PAE. She has fulfilled her final goal to earn a high school diploma.

Congratulations to all of our 2012 graduates.

David Galin is chief academic officer of the Portland Public Schools.