PORTLAND — Herve Irakoze has only been a student at Casco Bay High School for the past two years.

But in that time, he said, it has become home.

Irakoze will graduate from CBHS on Thursday, June 6, and said without the support and encouragement he found there, he might not be attending his dream college, Howard University.

The university, in Washington D.C., is officially recognized as a Historically Black College, which is one of the reasons Irakoze was so keen on attending. He’s not yet sure what he’ll study, but said he is thinking about a degree in either business or pre-law.

Irakoze spent his sophomore year at Deering High School, but was unable to make connections and find the support he needed, so he applied for a spot at CBHS, which has a focus on specialized experiential learning.

Irakoze got the last available slot two years ago and never looked back. He said he immediately felt that “this is the community I belong in.”

He give particular credit to Mallory Harr, an English language learner teacher at CBHS, for helping him make a successful transition.

“She was great,” Irakoze said. “When I first came here I was really confused and she helped me to get on track with my classes and everything.”

Irakoze speaks five languages: English, French, Swahili, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda. He believes it’s important to be multilingual and said everyone should be able to speak more than one language.

Irakoze has been active in the Black Student Union and also volunteered with the Maine Youth Court. Last fall he also volunteered for U.S. Sen. Angus King’s re-election campaign, where he worked the phone bank and knocked on voters’ doors.

Irakoze said he volunteered because “I’d heard great things about King and I think it’s important to educate voters and to encourage them to actually get out and vote.”

Although Irakoze got a lot of telephone hang-ups, and people were sometimes not particularly welcoming when he knocked on their door, overall he said working on the King campaign gave him hope for the future.

As a member of the Black Student Union, Irakoze said his goal was to “make sure every student’s voice was heard. We also tried to bring everyone together as a community by doing different activities.”

“My favorite part was getting to know other students and just helping out my school community,” he said.

This year Irakoze was able to take some classes at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, where his favorite course was psychology.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself and how human brains work and about human emotion. It was like being my own therapist.”

At CBHS, Irakoze said he was very interested to learn about American history, and also enjoyed an engineering course, where the students worked with robots and designed bridges, among other activities.

One thing that makes CBHS so special, Irakoze said, is that the school goes out of its way to acknowledge and celebrate different holidays and special events that are important to its diverse student body.

“Everyone here is so supportive,” he said. “We all get a lot of support academically and emotionally and they really helped prepare me for college.”

Irakoze said he’s really looking forward to attending Howard, where he hopes to have “a lot of great extending learning opportunities.”

Irakoze said he intends to return to Maine after college. It’s his dream, he said, to “give back to the community in as many ways as I can.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Herve Irakoze will graduate from Casco Bay High School in Portland on Thursday, June 6. He will attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.

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