Arianna Couillard celebrates her graduation from Morse High School. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

BATH — Sara Namwira became the first of 10 children in her family to graduate from high school in the United States on Sunday as she walked across McMann Field in Bath, taking her place as a brand new graduate of Morse High School.

Namwira, who turned 20 on Monday, first started at Morse in September. She didn’t speak English, having just moved from the Democratic Republic of the Congo two months prior to rejoin her father, who had to flee the country 2012, she said.

Sara Namwira receives her diploma, becoming the first in her family to graduate high school in the United States. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

Namwira wore a gold pendant shaped like Africa as she accepted her diploma, holding close to her heart thoughts of her three siblings still across the world. She said she hopes they will be able to join her in America soon, but is happy to be here with her parents, who she said are very proud.

She is thankful for the teachers and friends in Bath who have helped her learn English and other subjects, which she will use next year when she takes a Certified Nursing Assistant course at Morse Adult Ed. She hopes to one day be a nurse so she can help people and spend more one-on-one time with patients than a doctor might be able to. “When someone is sick, I feel like I’m sick,” she said.

Jeff DeRosa, named the school’s Dr. Patricia Ames Distinguished Teacher Award, said to believe in the class of 2019 because “their greatness awaits.”

In some ways, that greatness looks like going to college, the military or starting a career. In other ways, it means learning from mistakes, chasing dreams and finding out what it means to be yourself.

Commencement speaker Vanessa St. Pierre (left) and Class President Mae Winglass laugh during a speech at the Morse High School graduation on Sunday. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

For years, Vanessa St. Pierre’s curly hair was a reminder of a “box I would never completely fit into,” the Morse High School senior told the crowd on Sunday. She felt divided between her ethnicities — proud of her Korean culture and the delicious food she helped prepare, enjoying the French language she was learning to speak with her grandmother and separated from the black heritage she knew little about but inherited from a father who was not around. She grew up feeling “too black to be white, too white to be Asian, too Asian to be black,” she said, hovering somewhere “in the middle of ethnicities.”

It was her time at Morse High School, the commencement speaker said, that helped her feel comfortable with the different parts that make her who she is. “I still can’t do my hair, speak French or Korean, but I make really good egg rolls,” she said, encouraging her fellow graduates to appreciate the times they also have felt caught in between multiples senses of self.

It was Sarah Berkowitz’s unwavering love of the outdoors and sense of adventure, something that has stayed with her since she was a child, that allowed her to grow into herself, she said. Her “free range childhood” and “freedom of play” allowed her to “discover the world on my own” from the safety of Bath, and she will take her sense of adventure and her love of the outdoors with her when she leaves.

Salutatorian Elsa Bertlesman asked her fellow classmates to take advice from some 8-year-olds she met during her time as a camp counselor, and love shamelessly, be silly and be prepared to take the unexpected in stride, as what others say and do is something that cannot be controlled.

As they prepared to go out into the world and start the ceremony, four years older and wiser than when they first started at Morse, class President Mae Winglass had just one question for them: “Are you guys ready?”

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Morse High School seniors march, hand in hand, onto McMann Field. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

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