Freeport High School 2023 graduates Nick White (left), Jillian Wight, Ian Williamson, Kendra Williams and Alexis Williams. Maria Skillings / The Times Record

Portland’s Merrill Auditorium was filled with proud family, friends and faculty who watched 143 Freeport High School seniors graduate on Sunday.

While Kendra Williams anxiously waited with classmates to take the stage and snag her diploma, she said she was more than ready to graduate. Senior Ian Williamson said he couldn’t wait for college.

“I’m looking forward to going to (the University of Vermont) because both my parents went there. I was born in Vermont, so it will be fun to go back,” Williamson said.

On stage, graduates waved to their loved ones in the crowd, who cheered their names and waved lights that twinkled.

“Thank you for working so hard to walk across this stage today,” Principal Jennifer Gulko said to the graduates. “You are a funny, caring, successful and fun group of seniors.”

Gulko highlighted the strength of the seniors who overcame complications of COVID and remote learning and coping with the death of a fellow student this past fall. Gulko said the Class of 2023 became role models to underclassmen and demonstrated compassion during dark days.


Freeport High School graduates wait to take the stage. Maria Skillings / The Times Record

In addition to their emotional strength, Gulko said she was very impressed with the field day orchestrated by her seniors for grades K-5. She recalled seeing seniors playing duck-duck-goose with kindergarteners.

“If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will,” she said.

The elementary school children shared some words of wisdom with Gulko to give the graduating class as they head off to college and the workforce. Gulko said one child advised they watch the movie “The Sandlot” because, “It’s about much more than baseball, you know.” Another said, “Don’t forget your backpack.” Another reminded students to “love yourself.” And finally, one said, “Call your family because you will get homesick.”

Senior class president Finn Furtney congratulated his classmates on surviving online learning. Furtney thanked the faculty who taught them and the parents and guardians who provided “constant support” by driving them to and from practices, attending sporting events and buying endless amounts of snacks.

Freeport High School English teacher Jason Ouellette confessed he was nervous to deliver the keynote address and turned to Google and artificial intelligence for inspiration. Ouellette said in his research he found the right words through his favorite TV show, “Ted Lasso.” He told his students to “be humble” and “don’t settle for fine.”

Senior Lillian Gillis gave a laid-back speech as she reminded her classmates the world was theirs for the taking. Gillis said older generations call them “lazy, spoiled and phone-addicted teens,” but she said nothing could be further from the truth. Looking at her classmates, she said she could see a future Broadway star, a heart surgeon and the president of 2040.

“I see the people that will run the world and make sure the world still exists in 20 years,” Gillis said. “As we enter adulthood, soon we will be the ones paying taxes, complaining about our jobs and laughing at jokes that aren’t funny. Freeport’s Falcons are ready to fly.”

Freeport High School Class of 2023 on stage at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. Maria Skillings / The Times Record

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