Deya Ibrahim, left, 20, and 18-year-old Baha Ibrahim, graduating siblings in Portland High School’s class of 2017, came to Maine from Jordan just three years ago and credit their mom with their success. “She motivated us to stay strong and never give up,” Baha says.

When Baha and Deya Ibrahim arrived in Maine from Jordan, the only English words they knew were “hello” and “thank you.”

Three years later, the brothers are headed to college to pursue careers in structural engineering and medicine. They graduate Thursday from Portland High School with 166 other classmates – including six other sets of siblings.

The class of 2017 is unique for Portland High because of the large number of siblings graduating together, including four sets of twins. Of the six sets of siblings who agreed to be interviewed for this article, some have been in school together since they started, while others found themselves in class and learning English together after moving to the United States.

The Ibrahim brothers came to Portland from Jordan with their mother and younger brother. At Portland High School, Deya, 20, and Baha, 18, made close friends and found teachers and mentors who encouraged them as they learned English and adjusted to life in Maine. The brothers, whose smiles come often and easy, play together in the band Port City Rockers.

Baha, a junior, is graduating a year early and will join his brother next fall at Southern Maine Community College. Deya plans to study structural engineering, while Baha aims to become a nurse or physician assistant.

“It’s exciting. It’s a new life,” Deya said. “We have been working so hard.”

“We have lots of obstacles,” Baha added. “We’ll face them together.”

As much as they’re looking forward to walking across the stage at Merrill Auditorium to receive their diplomas, the brothers are even more excited about how proud and happy their mother, Hanan Ismail, is to see her two oldest sons graduate and head to college. Ismail – who calls her sons Dr. Baha and Engineer Deya – is planning a big party with lots of food.

“Our mom is a big part of our success. She motivated us to stay strong and never give up,” Baha said. “My mom feels amazing having two blessings at the same time.”


Elaheh and Nila Seddiqi

Like the Ibrahim brothers, Nila and Elaheh Seddiqi learned English together in high school. The sisters moved to Maine from Iran nearly four years ago after living for a short time in a refugee camp in Slovakia. Even before moving to Portland, the sisters were in the same year in school because Nila, now 20, started school a year late and Elaheh, 18, started a year early.

The sisters are headed to the University of Southern Maine, where Nila plans to major in business so she can someday run her own businesses. Elaheh, who has dreamed of becoming a cardiologist since she was a child, will major in biology.

“It’s a big deal,” Elaheh said of graduating and heading to college. “I’m a little nervous and excited.”

“I’m not nervous,” Nila said, telling her sister, “It’s because you’re younger.”

For the several sets of twins in the class of 2017, graduating and heading to college means being apart, in some cases for the first time ever.

Twins Eleanor and Grace Cox

Twins Eleanor and Grace Cox, 18, are headed out of state to attend college. Eleanor, who has been sewing since age 6, will study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Grace will attend Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, where she hasn’t yet settled on a major. They’re a little sad about moving away from each other, but are happy they’ll only be a two-hour drive apart.

“We’ve already planned the route to each other,” Grace said.

Twins Arianna and Gianna Fagone


Gianna and Arianna Fagone, 17, the only identical twins in the class, also are headed to different colleges in the fall, but they still plan to live together.

Gianna is enrolled in the liberal studies program at Southern Maine Community College, while Arianna is headed to USM to study biology.

Twins Anneke and Kenny Barnard, 18, were occasionally in the same class in elementary school, but by middle school were taking different courses. They’ll

Twins Anneke and Kenny Barnard

both attend USM in the fall, but in two very different areas of interest. Anneke plans to major in education and minor in English as she pursues her dream of becoming a high school librarian. Kenny is still undecided on a major, but is leaning toward sports management or journalism.

For Emily and Brooke Papineau, graduating and heading to college is bittersweet. The 18-year-old twins have never spent much time apart – they just recently

got separate bedrooms – and already are making plans to visit each other at their respective campuses next fall. Emily, an accomplished dancer, is headed to

Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, to study biology and dance. Brooke, who has been in 15 theatrical productions since starting high school, will

Twins Brooke and Emily Papineau

be 125 miles away at Salem State University, where she’ll have a double major in theater and vocal performance.

Although they are ready to graduate and excited for college, the 18-year-old twins know it will be a big adjustment. Brooke said she’s sad to be separated from “that one constant person” who has always been nearby.

“I’ve been with her every day for my whole existence,” Emily said. “I’ll miss her.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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