Superintendent's Notebook: Celebrating Portland's high school graduates

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More than 500 students graduated from the Portland Public Schools this month. Each of our graduation ceremonies was filled with pageantry, excitement and joy as we celebrated our students’ accomplishments.

I hope you will enjoy reading this collection of brief graduate profiles, shared by Casco Bay High School, Deering High School, Portland Arts and Technology High School, Portland Adult Education and Portland High School. While every graduate has a compelling story, there is not space to print them all. Please join me in wishing all of our graduates the very best as they head off to college, work or the military.

• Derrick Floridino persevered through many challenges to be able to graduate on time with his Portland High School class. Derrick began to struggle in the beginning of sophomore year and continued to struggle due to multiple responsibilities throughout his senior year. With a lot of teacher support, he completed his education while maintaining steady employment and helping to take care of his younger siblings. He hopes to pursue a career in fire sciences.

• Emily Kelsey, a Casco Bay High School graduate and National Honor Society member, spent her high school years involved in many service projects. She raised money to do volunteer work with children in Kenya, created a public service announcement on energy efficiency that aired frequently on Maine television and authored a book for peers about the value of service travel. She will attend the University of Maine and study environmental engineering.

• Ethan Koster is a graduate of Deering High School and the PATHS auto technology program. Ethan says he learns best with a hands-on approach, as is used at PATHS. He signed up for the automotive program as a senior to learn how to fix his own car. By the end of the year, he was diagnosing problems with his friends’ vehicles, too. The winner of a $500 Rotary scholarship, Ethan will study mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

• Jin Mei Luo, a Portland Adult Education graduate, arrived in the U.S. from China with an eighth-grade education in 1996. She enrolled in adult education classes in 2004 to learn English and has worked with tremendous diligence to achieve her diploma. She will join PAE’s College Transition Program to prepare for a medical degree at Southern Maine Community College.

• Rachel Miller, Deering’s valedictorian, was the fifth child in the world to survive a rare illness as a baby. She has dedicated herself to serving others. She has been a stellar volunteer in Future Teachers of America and plans to attend the University of Southern Maine to become a teacher.

• Kimara Nzamubona, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, came to Portland High in the fall of 2008 after fleeing violence in his home country and spending four years at a refugee camp in Burundi. At Portland High, he was involved in activities such as the Outdoor Adventure Club, French Club and soccer. He has received a full, four-year scholarship to Colby College and hopes to pursue an engineering career.

• Brittany Pio, a Deering graduate, dealt with setback after setback and kept moving forward. She completed her high school career as a solid honor roll student and Deering citizen. Her story is an inspiration to others dealing with challenges that appear to conspire to discourage and derail.

• Ness Smith Savedoff served as Casco Bay High School’s student representative to the Portland School Committee and as an award-winning diplomat on the school’s Model United Nations team. He was inducted into the National Honor Society last spring and graduated summa cum laude. As an intern at Maine Public Radio last year, he created a spot on teen smoking that aired regionally. He will attend Oberlin College.

• Tichot Pout Neyail Yei, a Portland Adult Education graduate, was caught up in the Sudanese civil war as a child. After his mother’s death, he left school at age 16 to care for his siblings. He eventually returned to school and completed his first high school diploma at age 22. In 2003, he was granted refugee status in the U.S. When he heard that he could find a job in Maine with a schedule that would allow him to go to school, he moved to Portland. He now has earned his second high school diploma and plans to attend Southern Maine Community College.

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James C. Morse Sr. is Portland’s superintendent of schools. His column runs monthly in The Forecaster and on He can be reached at, and you can follow him @jamesmorsesr on Twitter.