WESTBROOK – The Westbrook High School graduating class of 2013 laughed, hugged and cried their way through Saturday’s ceremony last weekend, vowing to stay in touch even after they shed their identities as Blue Blazes.

A large crowd of family, friends and school staff turned out June 8 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland on to cheer on the 175 Westbrook High School graduates as they received their diplomas, marking the beginning of the next chapter in their lives.

Many are heading to college, some straight to the workforce and six have enlisted to serve their country in the military.

“For those of you who enter school through the cafeteria, every morning I have met you at the door with a [greeting], ‘Welcome to Westbrook High School, this is going to be the best day of your life.’ It took some of you a while to get used to that, but you came around,” said Principal Jon Ross in his opening address to the class. “You are a very special and great group of young people. I will never forget my first graduating class. Thank you for making this a memorable year for me.”

Honor essayist Kevin Bois touched on the changes in the district he’s seen during his school career and how facing those changes together, as a class, has made the bond between them stronger.

“At the beginning of this year, Mr. Ross initiated a plan to redefine Westbrook High School by incorporating three core values: integrity, aspirations and perseverance,” said Bois. “It is very apparent that we, as a class, have become very close in our senior year at Westbrook High School. We have truly taken Mr. Ross’ words of encouragement to redefine exactly what it means to be a class.

“Today, we are Blue Blazes, tomorrow we will be the rocket scientists, engineers, poets, musicians, artists, athletes, veterans and teachers who will all share a common tie to the Westbrook school system,” Bois said.

Salutatorian Ian Murray also commented on the common ties that brought this year’s graduates together.

“By walking through the hallways of the same building almost every day for three-quarters of the past four years, I have been able to see and hear bits and pieces of the lives of my peers, and over time, it has strengthened the connection I feel to this class. And since we are a class, every one of our individual struggles is something we all experience, even when we don’t realize it,

“Our personal lives shape who we are, and the combination of our identities is what gives our class a name,” said Murray before listing a number of shared experiences, including being bullied, knowing heartbreak and facing the heightened responsibilities as they venture on to this new chapter.

In her speech, School Committee member Suzanne Joyce told students to follow their dreams and not to let life’s challenges hold them back. Joyce’s speech was met with a standing ovation from the students.

After the ceremony, the new graduates mingled outside, smoking cigars and generally celebrating the milestone.

“It’s really a bittersweet day,” said Liz Torrey, who will head to Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire this fall.

“I’m ready to start my life,” said Kaitlyn Joyce, daughter of Suzanne Joyce and graduating senior who received a hug from her mother when she received her diploma. Joyce is heading to Saint Joseph’s College of Maine in the fall.

And while many of the graduates are about to move on with their next adventure, class valedictorian Whitney Wallace, in her speech, reminded her peers to continue to grow and diversify, but to never forget their ties to Westbrook.

“Whether or not you share my enthusiasm for staying busy with a variety of different things, I genuinely wish all of the class of 2013 the best of luck in the future and look forward to staying in touch with some of you, and seeing the rest of you at a reunion or at least on Facebook – assuming you don’t unfriend me,” she said.

Waves of cheers and applause wash over the Westbrook High School class of 2013 as the students march into Portland’s Merrill Auditorium Saturday for graduation ceremonies.

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