Melea Nalli is the interim co-superintendent of Portland Public Schools and can be reached at

We were honored this month to participate in commencement ceremonies for the Portland Public Schools’ three high schools: Portland, Deering and Casco Bay. Each school is unique and their graduation exercises for the more than 400 graduates of the Class of 2023 reflected their distinctive characteristics.

However, what all three ceremonies had in common was the powerful voices of student class speakers and the unifying themes they expressed.

For example, Deering High speaker Patricio Miguel, who came to this country from Angola three years ago, just before the COVID pandemic began, told how he began high school at Deering taking classes virtually while living in a shelter for families experiencing homelessness. It took a year before he could attend Deering in person, he said.

But he found the school very welcoming and he thanked teachers for encouraging English language learners like him to join sports and clubs and be part of the Deering community. At Deering, he said, no matter where a student comes from, what their background is, what gender they identify with or which religion they practice – “we are all one family, the Rams.”

Portland High School valedictorian Elizabeth Littell told classmates that two ways to improve the divisive world we live in today are to be kind and have an open mind.

She recounted how, as a sophomore riding the bus home from a lacrosse game, another student went out of her way to include Littell in a singalong at a moment when she was feeling excluded. Although the gesture was small, Littell said, “this act of kindness has stayed with me since then.”


She said that illustrates that “we all have the immense power to impact someone’s life … I ask each of you to choose kindness and maybe you’ll inspire someone else to do the same.” She also asked classmates to have an open mind. “Take a step back and have a conversation with those you disagree with, just as you did in your ninth grade English class.”

Aaron Townsend is the interim co-superintendent of Portland Public Schools and can be reached at

At the Casco By High School ceremony, class speaker Lionel Celestino told how supportive classmates had been of his street dance performances at school. Through his dancing, Celestino said, “I felt I was contributing to the community because I brought joy.” He then gave a dance demonstration across the stage, which earned him a standing ovation.

Celestino said that after his experiences at Casco, “now I truly know what building community is.”

What this year’s graduates at all three high schools also have in common are their academic achievements. Those include 47 students graduating with STEM diploma endorsements recognizing their extensive work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Also, 63 graduates earned the Seal of Biliteracy for attaining mastery of English and at least one other world language – and one Casco student earned the seal for proficiency in a record-breaking six languages. The ability to speak multiple languages is an undeniable asset in today’s global world.

The Class of 2023 is headed to great colleges and universities across the country and in Maine. In some cases, graduates will be the first in their families to attend college. Numerous students have already gotten a head start by earning college credits in high school. And these graduates collectively earned nearly $3 million in scholarships and grants.

We have one more ceremony, on Thursday, June 22, when Portland Adult Education holds its 175th commencement at 6 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium. PAE students earn high school diplomas by taking PAE academic classes or by passing the HiSET test.

Congratulations to the amazing Class of 2023!

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