‘Never give up’: Lewiston graduates 20 more students at summer ceremony

Najmo Ahmed, left, and Muna Hassan greet friends, family and supporters ahead of their graduation from Lewiston High School at The Green Ladle on Tuesday. Hassan was the class leader and student lecturer. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — When Muna Hassan began her senior year at Lewiston High School, she had less than half the credits needed for graduation and little motivation.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it at all,” she said.

But on Tuesday, after a successful senior year and a full summer school session behind it, Hassan graduated at Lewiston High School’s summer graduation, along with 19 classmates.

The Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s green ladle stood only as school staff and families cheered on the new graduates.

“I feel very accomplished,” said Hassan, the class leader and student lecturer. “High school was a long and bumpy road.”

Academic disruptions caused by COVID-19 and personal issues beyond their control have led some of the graduates to fall behind in their classroom work. For Hassan, who unexpectedly lost his older brother two years ago, it was both.

In a video message, Superintendent Jake Langlais acknowledged the challenges students have faced at home and in their personal lives that have impacted their education.

“And yet you got up,” he said.

Friends and family gather for Lewiston High School’s summer graduation at The Green Ladle on Tuesday. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

Isaiah Smith, a graduate of Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s automotive program, credited his summer school teachers for helping him get the credits he needed to graduate.

“Some days I just didn’t want to work and then they just told me it was worth it and I was looking at life in front of me,” he said.

Problems at home put his education on hold. When he returned to school, the staff were there to help him.

His advice to others? “Never give up,” he said. “It’s worth it.”

This fall, Smith plans to enroll in the automotive program at Central Maine Community College.

Hassan does not yet know what awaits her, but in her speech she shared that she wants to become a social worker to help those who have gone through “unimaginable hardships”.

Linda Iverson, a grade 12 English teacher, taught summer school for 10 years. She teaches students at all levels, which allows her to bond with some students before they become seniors.

Like other teachers, Iverson said the last school year had been the most difficult of her career.

“A lot of these kids have had so much trouble virtually,” Iverson said. “They needed the one-on-one and they couldn’t get it.” To make up for lost credits, students enrolled in the summer school.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline delivers a commencement address Tuesday to summer graduates of Lewiston High School during a ceremony at The Green Ladle. Twenty students graduated. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

Classes moved to a distance format in the spring of 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. During the 2020-2021 school year, students learned through a mix of online and in-person classes.

“I’m really happy for them because it’s a second chance for them,” Iverson said. Many plan to continue their education at local community colleges this fall, in part because of the state scholarship for recent graduates, she added.

In high school alone, several hundred students attended summer school this year, according to vice-principal Jay Dufour. Some are getting ahead of the credits while others are there to catch up.

But due to an increasingly tight budget, the district doesn’t yet know what the district’s summer programs will look like next year. The summer school was funded this year by federal COVID-19 relief funds, which the district can only do for one more summer, according to Deputy Superintendent Karen Paquette.

The question isn’t whether the district will have a summer school next year, she said, but how big the program will be.

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