Superintendent's Notebook: Celebrating Portland's Class of 2016

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It’s almost graduation season, one of my favorite times of year as an educator.

Graduation is an occasion for great excitement and joy, but also a time to wipe away a few tears. It marks both an end – saying goodbye to classmates and teachers – but also a new beginning. Our graduates are about to embark on new experiences, in college and career.

This year, as interim superintendent of the Portland Public Schools, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, I will have the honor of speaking at five different graduation ceremonies.

I’ll be addressing the graduates from our district’s four high schools: Portland, Deering, Casco Bay and the Portland Arts and Technology High School, a regional high school for students from Portland and surrounding Maine communities. I also will speak at the Portland Adult Education graduation ceremony, congratulating PAE graduates for either attaining their high school diplomas or passing a high school equivalency test.

At all the ceremonies, I look forward to congratulating our graduates for having reached this milestone in their lives. I’ll also be celebrating the unique paths they all took to arrive at this juncture.

The May 20 PATHS graduation is one example.

Our approximately 200 PATHS graduates will get their high school diplomas at the graduation ceremonies of their sending schools. What they’ll receive from PATHS at the ceremony is a certificate of completion in the arts or technical education field they chose to pursue. Students also will receive national certifications, if their program offers them and they’ve earned them.

The nearly 20 programs PATHS offers are as diverse as automotive technology; commercial art; culinary concepts; early childhood occupations; fashion marketing; health science occupations; manufacturing technology; new media; marine systems; and plumbing and heating. All PATHS programs are designed to reflect the region’s business and industry needs and incorporate changing technology.

Our PATHS graduates deserve our applause for making a smart choice to augment their high school education with significant skills that will enable them to enter the job market or pursue post-secondary education. Many of these students have won awards and scholarships too.

I’ll also be speaking at graduation ceremonies for the more than 500 graduates of our district’s other high schools. Portland High School’s ceremony will be on June 8 at Merrill Auditorium; Deering’s on June 9 at the Cross Insurance Arena; and Casco Bay’s ceremony also on June 9, at Merrill.

It is always so moving to see our students stride across the stage in their caps and gowns as their names are called and proudly grasp their diplomas. They should be proud; they’ve successfully completed 12 years of schooling, with all the hard work and challenges that entails. For example, one challenge many students in our diverse district have successfully surmounted was learning to read, speak and write the English language along with all their other studies.

A number of those students – and our other students – also have earned accolades, awards and scholarships. Also, some graduates this year will receive STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) diploma endorsements – recognizing them for their extensive STEM-oriented work.

My final address will be at the PAE graduation on June 16 at Merrill. That ceremony is always a very special one. These graduates haven’t taken the usual route to complete high school.

PAE graduates can range in age from their late teens to retirement age or beyond. They haven’t previously finished high school for reasons such as illness; disability; working full-time to support their families; moving to new country where they didn’t speak the language; homelessness and even war.

Often, PAE diploma students have already completed high school or even college, but in another country and in another language. Congratulations to those graduates for the determination to start all over again in this country.

I’ll finish by saying “congratulations” to all our graduates, not just in English but in some of the most common of the approximately 60 languages spoken by our students and families, including Acholi, French, Somali, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and Arabic.

Graduates, you have demonstrated your will to learn. I hope you now make learning a lifelong habit.

Jeanne Crocker is interim superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. She can be reached at