Graduates to Watch

Joseph Gilbert, a 2020 graduate of Greely High, is taking a gap year before studying at Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Joseph Gilbert is a one-man volunteer agency.

The Greely High School senior has installed track for a railroad museum, fixed computer problems for the Sisters of Mercy, taught advanced computer skills to gifted sixth-graders and made 100 face shields for health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The list goes on, but Gilbert isn’t racking up volunteer hours for school credit or other recognition.

“It’s good to help other people,” he said. “But I just really like being busy.”

Gilbert, 18, of Cumberland, is a top student who has carried a rigorous course load, including classes at the University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine Community College. He has distinguished himself as a bright, creative, humble, fun-loving and kind citizen. And he has done all this while having autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“I still can’t write a full paragraph in under an hour,” he said with typical frankness. “Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. You have to focus on your strengths.”

Digital dictation apps have made writing a lot easier for Gilbert; he credits education technicians with helping him complete classroom work in the past.

Gilbert’s agility with math, science, technology, engineering and mechanics sets him apart, along with his willingness to help others in ways both significant and simple.

As a freshman, he earned Greely’s highest score in the American Math Challenge, then completed an independent study of advanced algebra in nine weeks. As a junior and senior, he completed advanced physics courses in electricity and magnetism on his own.

He was a leader of Greely’s robotics team and STEM club, winning an innovation award; he regularly tutored or mentored younger students; and he helped teachers develop curriculum plans and classroom projects. He also completed an internship with Logically, a Portland IT firm, and is an independent contractor with MODA Electronics of Gorham.

Gilbert also has volunteered for several years with the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum, installing railroad ties, tracks and phone lines during spring and fall work weekends.

During the pandemic, he programmed his 3-D printer to make 100 custom-designed face shields, which he provided free of charge to Maine Medical Center, Maine Eye Center, a nursing home and an emergency room doctor in New York.

Most endearing were his daily visits to Greely High’s functional life skills classes for students with various disabilities. He would walk through once a day, fist-bumping and chatting with each student.

“I just figure, why not?” he said. “It doesn’t take any time for me and they love it.”

Gilbert plans to study electrical engineering at Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts after taking a gap year “to learn some more stuff and finish some things,” including his ongoing rebuild of a 2006 Jaguar.

“It’s also pretty smart to wait because who knows what’s going to happen with this pandemic,” he said. “Who wants to go to college on video? That’s no fun.”