This graduation season, I have addressed a total of 700 graduates from our city’s four high schools: Portland, Deering, Casco Bay and the Portland Arts and Technology.

I also have spoken at the Portland Adult Education ceremony, congratulating the nearly 200 PAE graduates who either attained their high school diplomas or passed a high school equivalency test this year.

The pomp and circumstance at each ceremony was similar, but our outstanding graduates made each event new and different.

Many of our graduates shone academically and have been accepted at a wide variety of colleges and universities. Those include Ivy League institutions such as Harvard, Barnard, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania, and elite Maine schools such as Bates, Bowdoin and Colby, as well as the University of Maine system.

Many of our students also overcame significant challenges to complete their high school education. In addition to their academic achievement, they demonstrated remarkable perseverance.

There are many members of the Class of 2015 whose accomplishments stand out, and I wish I could tell you about every one. Since that is not possible, I’ll showcase here one outstanding graduate from each school.

Gabriel Walker, a Portland High School graduate, won a prestigious 2015 MPA Principal’s Award, which recognizes academic achievement and citizenship. Treasurer of the Class of 2015 and also vice president of the Student Council, Gabe maintained an “A” average while taking honors and Advanced Placement courses.

He also was president of the Shakespeare and drama clubs and of the Gay, Straight and Transgender Alliance. In his GSTA role, Principal Deborah Migneault said, Gabe was “a role model for spreading tolerance, understanding, compassion and dignity within our school community.” Gabe will attend Brandeis University this fall.

A Deering High School standout was Allison Nishimwe, who came to Portland from Burundi. She learned English as quickly as she could, and excelled in subjects as diverse as AP calculus, journalism and creative writing. Allison was very involved at Deering in the Natural Helpers peer support program. She plans to attend Wheaton College to study business.

At Casco Bay High School, Liam Fowler graduated with the highest GPA. He took every AP course the school offered and was on the school’s honor roll every trimester and earned high honors every trimester except for one. During his junior year, Liam volunteered with his class to aid in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. He plans to attend Middlebury College.

Noor Ibrahim, a graduate of PATHS and Casco Bay High School, came to Portland via Philadelphia and Syria and is an aspiring fashion designer. She culminated her senior year by unveiling 20 original outfits at the PATHS fashion show in April. Noor is a member of the National Technical Honor Society and is headed to Southern Maine Community College in the fall.

In the Portland Adult Education Class of 2015, Fartun Hirsi was one of the most dedicated students. Fartun, 29, is from Somalia and actually earned her first high school diploma in a refugee camp in Kenya. When she first came to Maine, Fartun worked two jobs to support her young son while waiting for her husband to join her here as a refugee.

When a friend encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse, Fartun also set out to earn a second high school diploma. She rarely missed a day at Portland Adult Education over the past two years. She recently completed her studies – just weeks before the baby she’s expecting arrives at the end of June.

Congratulations to these remarkable students and the entire Class of 2015. I wish them all the best as they pursue college and careers.

And for those of us who believe in lifelong learning, even in the summer, I have two reading suggestions: “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” by don Miguel Ruiz, and “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg.

The first is about recognizing self-limiting beliefs; the second is about why habits exist and how they can be changed. Both provide excellent food for thought.

Sidebar Elements

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk writes this column monthly. He can be reached at [email protected]. Read his blog at

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