In front of a sea of navy blue mortarboards and grinning faces, Portland High School Class President Gabriela “Gaby” Membreno addressed her 224 graduating classmates and an eager crowd.

Membreno shared anecdotes about class-wide antics, championed her classmates’ abilities to make change and implored her peers to “linger” in each other’s lives.

Only briefly did she discuss COVID-19, the pandemic that stunted her cohort’s first two years of high school.

“There were times that we thought there was no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel. But look at us now – we made it through that tunnel,” Membreno said. “We are in the light, and we look good.”

Membreno’s sentiment, and the thunderous applause that followed, felt like a collective exhale. Although the pandemic irrevocably colored the high school experience of the Class of 2023, the narrative of the day was instead on the emotions and experiences that have traditionally defined high school graduation for generations of students: love and loss, excitement and fear, and rosy nostalgia.

The ceremony inside Merrill Auditorium on Wednesday was the first high school graduation to take place in Portland this year. Ceremonies for the graduating classes at Deering High School and Casco Bay High School will be held Thursday.


The rest of Wednesday’s ceremony was replete with triumphant joy.

Interim Co-Superintendents Melea Nalli and Aaron Townsend shared the accomplishments of Portland High’s Class of 2023, noting that among the graduates are a 2023 National Merit Scholarship finalist, a fledgling art curator and a 2023 Portland Clubhouse Youth of the Year. 

“This is a class that represents the best of the traditions of Portland High, while also making unique contributions that have helped the school continue to thrive as a community,” Townsend said.

For Valedictorian Elizabeth Littel, her classmates’ greatest achievements are the kindnesses they show to others. She shared the story of a teammate who noticed her silence amid a celebration on the bus home from a lacrosse game. Her teammate stopped what she was doing and didn’t leave her side until she was included in the fun.

Portland High students make an impact, she said, “by sharing all they have, from pencils to laughter.”

The graduates’ generosity with one another was no more evident than when they joined voices to sing their chosen class song, “Have It All” by Jason Mraz.


“May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows,” they sang, smiling at one another. “I want you to have it all.”

Confetti fills the air as Portland High graduates celebrate outside Merrill Auditorium after graduation on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Following the ceremony, Myrtle Street was deluged with grads and guests packed shoulder-to-shoulder, reveling in the closeness.

Gown-clad graduates juggled flowers and cigars while their loved ones snapped photos. People popped confetti and parents fought tears.

For Posie Cabaniss, the magic of this rite of passage was in its regularity. She said the isolation that marked her early years of high school made it impossible to take for granted her special day, and the people she shared it with.

“I think it just made us all appreciate the relationships we have,” she said. “There’s a lot of love here. I’m just really grateful.”

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