A line of people snaked down Myrtle Street in Portland on Wednesday morning in the hot sun, holding flowers, balloons and other small tokens. They walked slowly toward the entrance of Merrill Auditorium, where Portland High School’s 203rd graduation ceremony was about to begin.

This year’s 194 graduates are headed to the workforce and colleges across the country, including Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, Middlebury and the University of Maine. The students won a total of $3.5 million in grants and scholarships to help pay for the next chapter of their education, said Superintendent Ryan Scallon as he gave a congratulatory speech to the first group of students to graduate under his tenure.

Scallon said the class is an impressive one, with students having participated in college-level research, speaking up to four languages and earning positions as finalists for prestigious national awards. But their paths to high school graduation weren’t always easy.

Ivanilda Ngovo celebrates after receiving her diploma at Portland High School’s graduation on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

During their four years in high school, some of the students who flipped their tassels and took their diplomas Wednesday experienced homelessness, had to assimilate to a new country, learn a new language, take on jobs and otherwise help support their families, Scallon said.

In addition, the class of 2024 began its high school career in the fall of 2020, during the height of the pandemic. In their freshman year, they attended school in a hybrid model – only going to school in person a few days a week.

“We give you credit for overcoming obstacles,” said Scallon.


The ceremony marked the start of the local high school graduation season. Thursday, students at Deering High and Casco Bay will accept their diplomas.

As students’ names were read aloud Wednesday, the audience cheered excitedly.

“That’s my sister!” screamed one audience member as a graduate moved to take her diploma and shake the hands of Scallon and Portland High School Principal Sheila Jepson.

Family members and friends lining up outside before the ceremony said they were proud of their graduates.

Manar Ajeel, who came to support her younger brother, Mohammed Ajeel, became emotional as she explained that her brother overcame many obstacles to make it to graduation day.

“People didn’t believe he would graduate but he proved them wrong,” she said, explaining that at one point, he fell into the wrong group of friends and wound up with a lot of challenges to deal with outside of school. “I’m just so proud of him.”


She said Mohammed Ajeel is headed to USM in the fall.

Kerra Brown acknowledges friends through a window while making her way into Merrill Auditorium with other Portland High School seniors. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Samantha and Ryan Frederick came to celebrate Ryan’s son and Samantha’s stepson, Porter Frederick.

“He survived education during the pandemic and made it to graduation,” said Samantha Frederick.

The Fredericks said they are excited for Porter to head to the University of Maine Orono in the fall.

Ryan Frederick, who is a mechanic, said he already fixed up his son’s car with a UMaine license plate.

“I think he’s always been an independent spirit,” said his stepmother. “Now he can live independently for real.”


Ryan Frederick, who is from Maine and graduated from Westbrook High School and whose grandfather graduated from Portland High School in 1939, said it was great to see the diversity of Portland’s graduating class.

“It wasn’t always like this,” he said.

Sam Keiter celebrates after receiving his diploma at Portland High School’s graduation on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland schools are economically, racially and culturally diverse. The student body is 48% white, 31% Black, 11% Hispanic, 4% Asian, 6% multi-racial and 0.4% Native American. Almost half of the students in the district are economically disadvantaged and the student body speaks 53 languages.

Graduation speakers, including Class President Gabriella Harrigan and Valedictorian Caden Hemond, didn’t focus on the academic achievements of their fellow classmates, but rather the relationships they created with each other and the personal growth they all had – surviving anxiety, heartbreak and doubt, learning from their mistakes and learning about themselves.

As they all move forward in life and continue to figure out who they are and who they want to be, Hemond reminded his classmates to live in the moment.

“There will always be tomorrow, but there will never again be today,” he said.


Jamie Mbiyavanga dances with Superintendent Ryan Scallon after receiving his diploma at Portland High School’s graduation at Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As the graduation ceremony carried on and more students were called up to receive their diplomas, the student body became increasingly excited. Some more gregarious graduates, with the encouragement of their cheering classmates, did backflips or made the stage their dance floor before making their way back to their seats. Scallon once joined in.

Students said they are looking forward to the freedom they hope they will find post-high school.

“I’m excited for some more independence,” said Nasteha Adaan, who is planning to attend St. Joseph’s College in the fall to study nursing.

Marwa Omar said graduating high school means “literally everything” to her. “I’m finally becoming an adult,” she said. Omar is slated to attend the University of Southern Maine in the fall. She hopes to one day become a doctor.


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