SOUTH PORTLAND – When South Portland High School senior class president Matthew LaBerge gave his closing remarks at graduation ceremonies Sunday, he couldn’t seem to contain himself, exclaiming to his classmates, “I love this class!”

“So many of you have had such a positive impact on my life,” he continued, as a chorus of “awwwws” from the 186 graduates before him grew into a crescendo of cheers and return calls of “We love you!”

It seemed proof that record rainfall, which drenched the area, closed roads and drove commencement ceremonies from George E. Martin Memorial Field, had not dampened spirits, as nearly 1,200 people packed into Beal Gymnasium to send off the class of 2012.

According to high school career assistant Julie King, 87 percent of the graduating class will pursue higher education. On Monday, King said 111 graduates are bound for a four-year college or university, while 43 plan to attend a two-year institution, Southern Maine Community College being the predominate choice. Another seven students have enrolled in trade schools, while one has joined the military. Just 26 students intend to transition directly into the workforce, or else remained undecided at the time of the annual senior survey, said King.

In her speech, honor essayist RoryAlice Hoecker, who will attend Clark University, assured her classmates that being undecided on a future is no a sign of failure. In fact, it’s probably best, she said, not to focus on failure or success, but on the everyday moments between the highs and lows life has to offer.

“Not every day is going to be great,” said Hoecker. “Not every day is going to be terrible. Most of them are just going to be OK. And those days are the days that will make up the majority of our months and years.

“We think in terms of thumbs up or thumbs down, best and worst, winners and losers,” she said. “We forget everything in the middle. We forget that there’s not always right or wrong. There’s not always an answer. And that’s OK. It’s OK to not know what you want to do with the rest of your life, to not know what you want to study, or what you want for a job.

“Sometimes life is just OK,” said Hoecker. “But, when you think about it, being OK is great. Being OK means you are alive and living and that you are aware of the middle ground – that you can see all that is around you, that you are a human being, and that you can handle whatever life throws your way.”

On the other hand, Hoecker’s fellow honor essayist Daniel Medici, who plans to attend Colby College, stumped against “being ordinary.”

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top,” he said, quoting from famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

“As the years pass by, it will become easier and easier to accept being ordinary,” said Medici. “It is of extreme importance that you not allow this to happen. Often times, people who allow themselves to live ordinary lives end up with regrets. There can’t be anything worse than being an old person who has a lifetime of regrets.”

Still, Medici was quick to add that he was not making value judgments on the life choice his classmates may make. It’s not what you do, he said, but how well you do it.

“Wherever life takes you, whatever your job is, you should invest yourself in it entirely,” said Medici. “Never be content with a task half-done, a game half-played, or a curiosity half-satisfied.

“To avoid being ordinary, you only need to do the best you can possibly do at whatever matters most to you, whether that’s break dancing or stamp collecting or nuclear physics, makes no difference,” said Medici. “What matters is that you do it with extraordinary passion. Do that and you will never be ordinary.”

Salutatorian Elizabeth “Libby” Grant, who, like LaBerge, will enter the University of Maine system, appeared to side with Hoecker, advising graduates to “take joy in the simple pleasures.”

Meanwhile, valedictorian Er Li Peng, who has been accepted to Dartmouth College, admitted she had little advice for her classmates as they embark on paths different from the one shared these past four years.

“An 18-year-old giving other 17- and 18-year-olds wisdom is probably not the best idea,” she said.

Instead, Peng advised her peers to do as she intends to do, “every day from here on out.”

“Make every moment count,” she said. “I will make every moment count by doing things I am passionate about and taking risks. After all, Helen Keller said, ‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.’ So, do one thing every day that stirs you. It doesn’t have to change the world. It can be anything, big or small. It can be skydiving, or learning Swahili, or perfecting that epic Thai recipe.”

LaBerge pointed out that before they could move on to explore the world of options before them, one task remained for South Portland’s class of 2012 to ensure they leave this stage of their lives without regrets.

“This is my final challenge to our senior class,” he said. “Tonight at Project Graduation, talk to people, have conversations with people that you’ve never talked to before, or that you’ve been too nervous to approach before.

“We’re all friends and this is the last time we’ll all be in the same place at the same time,” LaBerge said. “So let’s have a night to remember, because we, the class of 2012, are no ordinary group of people.”

The 187 members of South Portland High School’s class of 2012 celebrate graduation by tossing their mortarboards Sunday in Beal Gymnasium. For more on South Portland’s class of 2012, see pages 11-12. (Photos by Rich Obrey)
Class of 2012 valedictorian Er Li Peng shares a laugh with her audience during her honor essay reading titled “Make It Count,” at Sunday’s graduation at South Portland High School.
Matthew LaBerge, president of the class of 2012, served as the emcee for the graduation ceremony.
Sun shades suited for another weather forecast adorn senior Kaitlin Haskell as she waits in a hallway before marching into the gym.
Beverley Hosic, director of vocal music for the South Portland School Department, shares a laugh and a hug with Alexandra Abramson and other seniors before the ceremony.
Longtime teacher Ralph Newell gives a cue to Yusuf Ismail and Said Mohamed, the final pair of seniors to march into Beal Gymnasium during graduation Sunday for the South Portland High School class of 2012. (Photos by Rich Obrey)
Senior buddies, from left, Daniel Grazewski, Teddy LeFay, Joey DiBiase and Michael Salvatore wait in the hallway before the ceremony.
Photographer Martha Mickles organizes a group of seniors for a photo.


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