We have just completed graduation season in the Portland Public Schools. All of the graduates of our four high schools and Portland Adult Education deserve praise for their accomplishments in completing their degrees. Since my space is limited, I will tell you about a representative sample.

Joseph Luka, a Deering High School graduate, survived an attack on his home village in southern Sudan, a malaria epidemic and many other hardships before immigrating to the U.S. in 2003. Joseph discovered a love of running as a child and track became his entree to acceptance in high school. For the past two years, he has been a captain on the Deering cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track teams. He often squeezes in practice after his job at downtown restaurants by running home to Riverton Park at midnight. Joseph has done well academically while helping to support his family and care for his younger siblings. He will attend Clark University and hopes one day to become a doctor in a developing country.

Emma Robinson, Casco Bay High School salutatorian, wrote and received two grants to create a community garden on the school grounds. She was the first CBHS student to lead one of the school’s week-long intensive classes, working with other students to start the garden that will grow vegetables for the school salad bar. Emma also launched a CBHS milk bottle recycling program and she worked with another student to create the school yearbook. She will attend Bard College, where she plans to study sustainable agriculture.

Simon Carroll, a Portland High School graduate, has excelled in academics and athletics during the past four years. He was a national winner on the Latin Exam. He lettered in swimming, ran track, played trumpet in the school band and participated in the sailing team and Science Bowl team. Next year, he will attend Florida Institute of Technology. He plans to major in engineering.

Samantha Dow, a graduate of CBHS and the Portland Arts and Technology High School commercial art program, remembers her first visit to the art class, “stepping nervously into an open room full of bright colors and more raw materials than I had ever considered using. It was a room full of possibilities, and it absolutely enchanted me.” In a graduation essay, she described the art room as her “sanctuary.” Samantha will attend Colby College and she is considering a major in illustration. 

Joe McMann, a Deering graduate, was diagnosed with a severe case of Crone’s disease at the age of 12. He spent the next four years in the hospital, undergoing several operations, and missed school from sixth grade to ninth grade. His positive attitude helped him make friends and succeed academically at Deering. He also graduated from the graphic arts program at Portland Arts and Technology High School. Joe will attend Southern Maine Community College, where he plans to study computer technology.

Judith Abdalla, a Portland High School graduate, started the school’s “What’s Next” club as a freshman. Partnering with the school’s health center, club members educate peers about teen pregnancy, depression, anxiety and other health and mental health issues. Judith also has been involved with the school’s annual International Show and the Gear Up program. She will attend Southern Maine Community College, and she is exploring future careers in nursing or human services.

Yugu Yobo, 37, fled Sudan as a refugee and has studied at Portland Adult Education since 2004. After being laid off in 2008, he resolved to complete a high school diploma. A clerical error placed him on a list that barred him from obtaining his citizenship. Having lost family members and his homeland to terror, it has tormented Yobo to be wrongly associated with terrorists. As he continues to work to clear his name, he has persisted at school, completing 35 courses at PAE and simultaneously preparing to serve as a minister.

Congratulations to the Class of 2011.

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James C. Morse Sr. is Portland’s superintendent of schools. His column runs monthly in The Forecaster and on theforecaster.net. He can be reached at [email protected]