Thursday, June 9, 2005

221 graduate from South Portland

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (June 9, 2005): South Portland High School graduated 221 seniors Sunday, in ceremonies marked by bright skies, cool breezes and beach balls bouncing among the graduates.

The first diploma was awarded to the family of Anthony Varanelli, a member of the class who died during freshman year.

Honor Essayist Jeana Petillo challenged her classmates to contribute to society. “Giving back is something we can all do, regardless of where we are going next year,” she said.

“Everyday people will continue to influence and inspire others with small acts of kindness,” she said.

Honor Essayist Leia Crosby, who recently returned from a semester in Thailand, echoed the theme, urging her fellow graduates to “have an open mind and an open heart and the courage to take risks.”

She recited a quote from the diploma she received at the end of her Thailand semester: "To live is to risk dying, to hope is to risk despair, and to try is to risk failure. But only a person who risks is free."

She said the school had given them a good foundation on which to build their futures. “South Portland High School has not just given us an education; it has taught us to develop our education on our own,” Crosby said.

Class Salutatorian Shana Kieran, who said she is “going back to basics these days,” told of the recent rediscovery of her favorite childhood book, “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney.

It is a picture book about a girl who dreams of growing up, going off to see the world, settling by the sea, but has been taught that “she must do something to make the world more beautiful,” Kieran said.

So when she gets older, Miss Rumphius settles by the sea and plants lupin seeds all up and down a hillside outside of town.

“Once in a while we need to get outside of ourselves,” Kieran said, reminding her classmates, teachers and assembled friends and relatives that the class “began our freshman year on Sept. 4, 2001.”

“Over the last four years our awareness of terror and fear have been heightened,” she said. “This is a time when we need people to do things,” like improving the world and helping people gain understanding of each other.

She said there are a lot of groups, even in the school, with people divided by political lines, social issues, class, race and even “people who listen to rap, people who listen to country.”

“Be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking,” she said, suggesting that people do something to make the world better. “It’s not about fixing the world or eliminating evil,” just making things nicer for each other, she said.

Valedictorian Tim Cahill began his address by invoking the age group that has been called “the greatest generation” – the people who were young adults at the beginning of World War II and faced huge challenges that they rose to and overcame.

“Our generation comes of age at a time of uncertainty and fear,” said Cahill. “The challenges for us are great.”

But, he said, in his own class there are “ordinary people already doing extraordinary things.”

He praised nearly two dozen of his classmates by name, and the rest by association, saying they are working in a wide range of ways to make South Portland and the world better places.

He said Hannah Dunphy has "devoted countless number of hours" with Amnesty International, leading the school's group and representing all Maine students to the larger organization.

He told of Shana Kieran and the Key Club's efforts to make money and give it to needy causes, and of Matt Fitzpatrick, "who is too young to join the Marines" but volunteers on weekends training and recruiting others, and will join when he can.

Cahill honored the achievements of Seth York, who will attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; Martha Shaw, who is joining the Air Force; the class's three Eagle Scouts, Nick Meyer, Sam Jackson and James Kemer; and Kyle Dixon, owner of his own landscaping business and a dedicated volunteer in the community.

He recognized the artistic ability of graffiti artist Eli Shank, whose work can be seen at the legal tagging wall in Portland, and on the class of 2005 T-shirts; and Tyler Dyment's caricatures and Ben Braley's photography.

Cahill told of athletic prowess, too: record-setting track athletes Courtney Albin and Eric Giddings, Whitney Morrow's 1,000-point basketball career, and columnist and softball star Amanda Aceto.

Some students have other interests, too, Cahill said: "Annie Clancy is the heart and soul of all our auditorium performances. Alex Trout is the go-to guy for any kind of technical assistance. ... Casey Doucette and Jeana Petillo work harder than anyone will ever know to keep our class fired up and on track."

He pointed to two students in particular for extending the reach of South Portland High School around the globe: Leia Crosby, who spent a semester in Thailand, and Xibei Ding, who moved to Maine from China this year. "They have shown us how to be citizens of the world," Cahill said.