More than 500 students who attend Portland’s three high schools graduated Thursday in consecutive commencement exercises were held at two different locations in the city.

Portland High School was the first to hand out 189 diplomas during a 2 p.m. ceremony at Merrill Auditorium. Deering High School’s 235 graduates were next with a late afternoon ceremony at the Cross Insurance Arena. A total of 88 Casco Bay High School seniors received diplomas Thursday evening during a ceremony at Merrill Auditorium.

Portland High School and Deering High School’s commencement exercises are steeped in tradition. Portland High, one of the oldest operating public high schools in the U.S., celebrated its 198th commencement exercise and Deering High School recognized its 145th. Casco Bay High School, which is housed on the same site as the Portland Arts and Technology High School and opened in 2005, held its 11th commencement.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana mentioned the historical element in his address to Deering High School students, noting that the school, its graduates, and its traditions stretch back into time for nearly a century and a half.

“Deering has a great heritage,” Botana said, before expressing confidence that the class of 2019 would do great things in the world.

Botana pointed out that 26 Deering High School seniors received the Seal of Biliteracy, meaning that they were able to master English and at least one foreign language. Botana said about 30 Deering seniors took advanced placement courses at local colleges during the spring semester, and the list of colleges accepting Deering grads this fall will include Bates, Brandeis, Georgetown, Bowdoin, Vassar, Tufts and the University of Michigan.

Botana, quoting a teacher at Deering, said, “Overall, this graduating class is one of the best, one of the most engaged and one of the most empathetic” that teacher has ever worked with. School officials and student speakers said the class of 2019 developed close emotional bonds.

Those bonds were on display when students left their seats during the ceremony, formed a circle, held hands, and started dancing on the floor to the class song – “The Show Goes On” by hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco. During the festivities, students slapped a beach ball, keeping it airborne throughout.

During the Portland High School commencement, Botana and Principal Sheila C. Jepson highlighted a range of class accomplishments, including seven students who received the STEM – for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – endorsement and 16 students who received the Seal of Biliteracy.

In his remarks, Portland High School Class President Joseph Harrington spoke about the students’ shared experience and the school’s long history.

“There are twenty-eight steps leading up to Portland High School. Young men and women from the past have shared these steps with us today,” said Harrington, who will attend Macalester College in the fall of 2020. “We’ve all faced loss, we’ve faced defeat, but each of us seated on this stage stayed the course and kept climbing those steps.”

Harrington thanked his classmates for making the “small steps” memorable and shared his optimism for his classmates’ futures.

While reflecting on his time in high school, class vice president Robert Sheils compared his school experience to a drive through a rainstorm on his way to hike Mount Katahdin.

“Before we can climb to new heights, we have to complete the journey that will take us there,” said Sheils, who will attend at Bates College. “Whatever we choose to do in our futures, this road we have driven has given us the opportunity to discover and keep discovering.”

After the student remarks, the prestigious Brown Memorial Medal was awarded to 10 members of the class of 2019 — five females and five males. The award, established in the 1800s, exemplifies academic excellence.

Portland High’s class of 2019 valedictorian, Lauren Paradise, will attend Brown University in the fall and salutatorian Karina Boothe will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In addition to the remarks and diplomas, the ceremony showcased the new-graduates’ musical talents with renditions of “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban and “Windows Are Rolled Down” by Amos Lee.

Although tradition is a large part of commencement exercises, Portland High formally recognized alumni of the school during the graduation ceremony for the first time. The graduates of Portland’s class of 1969 marched in with the 2019 graduates during the processional.

“You graduates here today are part of a tradition stretching back almost two centuries,” Botana said. “The future of Portland, the future of Maine and the future of this country will be written by you.