High school graduation season is my favorite time of year. From their first day of preschool, our goal as educators is to ensure students succeed as learners. Seeing them graduate from high school is as gratifying to us as it is to them. I will be particularly proud to see the Portland Public Schools Class of 2022 graduate in June. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic upended much of their high school experience, this class has persevered with amazing determination to reach this milestone.

Xavier Botana is the superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at [email protected]

Four years ago, members of the Class of 2022 were excited as they walked through the doors of our three high schools – Portland, Deering and Casco Bay – as freshmen. They looked forward to this new learning experience, not knowing at that time that a pandemic would make 2018-2019 their only normal year of high school.

They successfully navigated that first year to become sophomores. But COVID changed their lives abruptly in March 2020. Due to the pandemic, we suddenly closed our school doors that month for what we thought would be two weeks. Instead, our buildings had to stay shuttered for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. The Class of 2022’s last day of traditional in-person school turned out to be Friday, March 13.

The class suddenly had to adjust to an immediate switch to remote learning. They had to forgo in-person connections with teachers and classmates and instead learn virtually through Zoom and Google Classroom. Words like “mask,” “social distancing” and “quarantine” became part of their everyday vocabulary.

Their junior year was similarly challenging. While many of our students at other levels had the opportunity of hybrid learning in the 2020-2021 school year, we had to provide our older high school students with instruction that was largely remote for much of that year, due to a variety of factors. It wasn’t until that April, as vaccines became more widely available, that we were able to resume some in-person classes for our 10th through 12th graders.

We had hoped this 2021-2022 school year could return to normal. We resumed in-person learning for all students, but as variants led to a rise in cases at various times over this year, we still had to follow a number of COVID precautions, such as mandatory masking, to keep everyone as safe as possible. We made masking optional on March 14, but on May 12, returned to mandated masking due to cases increasing again.

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The pandemic has caused the Class of 2022 to miss out on many of the social-emotional connections and treasured rituals that are part of the high school experience. Throughout all these challenges, however, class members kept their eyes on the prize and continued successfully to complete their coursework to make it to graduation. Many also had outstanding achievements in academics, athletics and other activities.

At graduation in June, I’ll be congratulating the Class of 2022 collectively for a variety of accomplishments, including being accepted by many institutions of higher learning, including elite colleges and universities across the country and in Maine, and winning a couple million dollars in scholarships and grants.

But each and every individual in the class also has earned an “R” – for resilience – for the way they showed great fortitude in the face of unprecedented change to achieve their educational goals. Whatever they set out to do next, this trait will help them accomplish it.

Congratulations, Class of 2022! You’ve demonstrated that you’re prepared and empowered to succeed in the college and career paths that lie ahead.

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