Dear MDIHS Graduating Class of 2021
By Marc Edward Gousse
Superintendent of Schools
Congratulations! The past 13 months have been challenging for all of us and, in particular, for each of you. Each of you has persevered in the face of adversity and sacrificed in ways in which we never could have considered prior to the pandemic. Be proud of your achievements and more importantly for the compassion, resilience and success you have accomplished.
Over the past four years, you have collectively worked and studied, practiced, played, and grown in many ways. Whatever course your future takes, it is my hope that you will look back on your years at Mount Desert Island High School as having prepared you to meet and deal with the challenges that life presents.
I thank the faculty and staff of the MDIRSS schools for a job well done in soundly preparing our graduates to continue their journeys as lifelong learners.
You are a unique and special group of individuals; your accomplishments have been significant. You have taken your education seriously, which can be evidenced by your commitment scholastically, in extra–curricular activities, and in all of the communities which comprise the MDIRSS.
Life is a series of new horizons, new hopes, new days and changes. As you enter the next chapter of your lives, please consider these three things…
- Make every day count
- Dream it – Do it
- Remember, the right decisions you make in life may not always be the popular ones
My best wishes with your future plans and the pursuit of your dreams. With that in mind, “Don’t wait for your ship to come in – row out to meet it!”
Shining the light on the Class of 2021
By Matt Haney
MDI High School Principal
It is an honor to have been asked to share my thoughts about the Mount Desert Island High School Class of 2021. While it’s undoubtedly true that we have collectively had our share of struggles, I’d like to use this space to shine the light on some of what the class of 2021 has learned.
We learned how much our families, community and educators love our students. Spring of 2020 was about staying connected, supporting each other and coming to grips with our emerging reality. We learned how important we are to each other. We finished out that school year with a renewed appreciation for our need for connection and how badly we missed each other.
We learned how complicated change is in schools, and how vital it was to our students that we bring them back into the building in September. The summer was filled with a mixture of determination, creativity and collaboration all aimed at putting together a senior year for this group of students. Those involved in the planning knew how critical it was that students returned to rigorous and meaningful educational experiences.
When we came back to school, what we learned from each other transcended the content areas that we teach in school. We invited students into our homes via our computer cameras, and they invited us into theirs. We realized that we were sharing a once in a generation experience that we could only endure through empathy and love.
When we returned to school in person, we realized that maybe we didn’t need to start school at a time that caused our young adults to wake up well before the sun. Maybe changing our routines at school to allow for just a little more time for the students to breathe and enjoy each other’s company would mean that not only would they be healthier and happier, but that they would also be set up to thrive during their time spent in classrooms.
Throughout this school year, there has been a team working tirelessly to ensure that the Class of 2021 has had the senior year they’ve been working towards their whole lives. While very little looked quite the same as it did in the “before” times, students have had opportunities to participate in performing arts, athletics, school-based clubs and many other previously taken for granted privileges. A dedicated group of parents even pulled together to replicate some of the rites of passage that as a school were not feasible to organize this year.
While it’s certainly true that many things have gone wrong in the last 15 months, my hope is that, in the end, among the messages that stand the test of time are that perseverance does pay off, and that the greater MDI community loves its young adults and will move mountains to support them. I wish the Class of 2021 my heartfelt congratulations for their accomplishments and will miss them greatly.
Diversity is reality
By Kassandra Robledo
Before I begin, I would like to say thank you. Thank you, teachers and staff, for supporting and guiding us these past four years. Thank you, parents and family members for enduring us our whole lives. I am very honored to be up here, thank you.
My biggest challenge throughout high school was asking questions. It wasn’t that I feared coming off as “stupid” or was ashamed of not understanding. I was scared of the response, the conversation, the lesson that would follow. I feared that I was stirring up something, bringing up a conversation that was uncomfortable. A conversation where I would be tokenized or seen as dramatic. I am no better than people avoiding conversations out of discomfort; I avoided starting many conversations because I was uncomfortable, and that is on me. However, sitting at home, at my kitchen table, behind a laptop, with my camera on, I asked a question.
At that moment, I realized that our school has given us one of the greatest things in education ever. Our school has provided the space and tools which enables us to ask questions. So, I stand here, overcoming my discomfort and utilizing this platform to finally question a lack of change, a lack of representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) students in our school’s curriculum.
Horace Mann, the father of the Common School, once said “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the condition of men.”
This was said during a time where I could neither read nor write, speak nor think. A time where an educated woman was a rarity, and the color of your skin determined your worthiness of knowledge. Education can lead to equality, but there is a long history of unequal opportunity. Opportunities closed, locked away. Yet, we’ve never questioned the keeper of keys or the barricade in between.
Twelve years. The first time I saw someone that looked like me in the curriculum was Junior year. I flipped through the page, nearly missed it. One slide in a presentation. One day devoted. One lesson learned. One year till I saw myself again. Twelve years, from kindergarten to eleventh grade.
“In time,” we’re told “we’ll progress.”
But how many more times will we miss ourselves in the pages? How many more times will we be tokened, depicted in pictures as inclusion? Are we just filling your quota?
Our education lets us question, but there has been an obligation to a lack of representation. Separating, diving, confining.
I am not the only student here that can count the number of times that they have seen themselves in lessons with only two hands. Our two hands are reaching, grasping, yanking for the doors to be opened. Is it even possible to open those doors when you have never seen them opened before? Few can pull, prick, pry the doors open, but why? Why is there even a lock? Why can you pass but we can’t?
Do you know how hard it is to strive for something, accept something, that few people like yourself receive?
I refuse to believe that I deserve my acceptance to the college I will be going to. I checked the box stating that I have Native American ancestry ⎯ Tarahumara, Navajo, Cherokee. I checked the box saying I’m Hispanic, I’m Chincana. I checked the box stating that I do not identify as white. My whole entire life there has been so much emphasis on checking those boxes. Was I accepted because I checked in a box? When they say you’re ‘unique’ do they mean not white?
Is it okay to feel guilty? Is it normal to worry that I stole someone’s spot? Did I steal a white person’s spot?
Honors, AP classes, hours of homework, lunches to pack, hair to braid, hands to hold. Cup after cup of coffee. Turning assignments in at 11:59. Carving out time to breathe. I worked diligently.
I refuse to believe that I deserve my admission, all while we refuse to believe that doors are still closed to BIPOC students. Who is the keeper of keys and why can’t we knock down that barricade in between?
This isn’t self-doubt. This isn’t disbelief. This is systemic guilt. Guilt that is not my own. Guilt that has been ingrained, inflicted, institutionalized into me.
One sided stories. One lens. One perspective. One history. One voice. One color. One gender. One sexuality.
Is there one person living on this planet?
Diversity is reality, so why are we giving students an education that is anything but reality? One isn’t diversity. One isn’t inclusive. One isn’t representative. One isn’t us.
Stop turning your heads, ignoring, pretending institutionalized racism doesn’t happen because it’s just too heavy of a topic to deal with. Stop limiting yourselves because something is uncomfortable. Privilege is comfort. It is uncomfortable to tell your friends, family, and school that there is a problem. There is a lack of representation, eliminating privileges and closing opportunities.
We need to overcome this discomfort. We don’t want to talk about it because we don’t want to break the silence. Breaking the silence takes us away from our sense of comfort. We need to break the silence. Embrace the discomfort.
At this high school we were all gifted with the privilege to learn. Given an education that nurtures its students, providing the space for exploration. So explore. Be vulnerable. Ask questions. There are no limitations, so why keep restricting ourselves by discomfort?
Today I stand here, questioning, why have we not made change?
Thank you for listening. Thank you all for coming to this ceremony and celebration. And with that, I welcome you to this year’s graduation ceremony.
Kassandra Robledo is a founding member of the MDI Regional School System Anti-Racism Task force. In January, Kassandra was selected as a runner up in the New York Times Personal Narrative contest from a field of over 9000 entrants. Next year she will attend Cornell University and plans to double major in government and performing & media arts. She is the daughter of Veronica Breceda-Harris and Raymond Robledo.
A look to the future
By Sam Mitchell
When I found out my friend was nominating me to speak at graduation, I thought that would be great. Smaller graduation, speak to 400 people for five minutes and get out of here. Well, in the midst of this process, it has somehow changed from 400 to a lot more than that, which, in all honesty, I was not prepared for.
Still, I was very excited, and very nervous about what could possibly go wrong. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life as I’m sure it is in many of yours. That fear of taking the next step or trying something new. As you now know, I’ve been a member of the dive team here at the high school for three years. I joined it for the same reason I accepted my nomination to speak today – so I could be the center of attention. And if you know me, you must know that I was going to talk about this, so buckle up. Diving was a leap for me. I had always been a baseball player, a football player, a swimmer, someone you would not expect to jump up on a board and do flips. Still, I went for it, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I allowed myself to be put out of my comfort zone, and I learned so many valuable lessons. The biggest being that no matter how many times you smack your face, you always have to get up and try again.
This year we got thrown into a situation that nobody expected, and nobody was prepared for. We were kept out of the schools and isolated at home, forced to take online classes and live with the daily fear and stress of COVID.
Repeatedly, it felt like we were smacked in the face. It has been such a mark on our generation, on our high school years, but it doesn’t define us. We are stronger than that attack on our youth. Charles Darwin is famous for many things, one of which being his theory of natural selection and evolution through it. I’m sure you remember him describing it as survival of the fittest. In reality, Darwin meant survival of the most adaptable and resilient, not the people simply built to survive. Every single one of us, having made it through the pandemic, are stronger for it. It proves we are stronger than the trials and tribulations that we faced. Not only did we make it through four years of high school, but you guys just made it through the necessary COVID portion of my speech. I think we’re all excited for the day when small talk no longer means talking about how crazy this year has been and how annoying the masks are.
I hope you all have noticed, as I have, that the topics of conversations have shifted. I find myself talking less and less about the pandemic, and if I do it is about the gratefulness it is over. Nowadays I talk about the future. What college I’m going to, what I’m studying, what I plan to do after college.
The more I talk to people and the more I talk to my classmates, the more I realize that there is an infinite number of opportunities and dreams that we can pursue, something we haven’t felt like was possible for a long time. Inevitably, the pursuit of your happiness will cause change, and already has. You will play your last game, run your last meet, and the lights on the stage will go dim. It’s very hard to accept that change, but it doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It’s not the end of a chapter, but the beginning of a new one. Now you get to choose a major, or a career path, and do what you want to do with the world ahead of you. So while change may hurt, the train of life will keep chugging on and you along with it. In the meantime, live life the way you want to, and to the fullest, because we only get one. Decide what to be and go be it.
Now I would like to say a few things before I end my speech.
First of all, the boys track team just won their second state championship in four years. If we could get a big round of applause for them. (I would’ve worn my swim medals too, but when you get that many it starts to get pretty heavy.)
Thank you to my parents for not only pushing me to be the best in school, but in everything I do.
Thank you, Mom, for cheering the loudest, and Dad, for making me pitch to you and throwing to me in the cage whenever you got a chance.
Thank you to my brother Jacob for instilling a competitive drive in me and being an outstanding example.
Thank you to Dave Blaney, Jim Willis, Tony Demuro and many others for helping the swim team and I achieve all the dreams we could, and thank you to Chris Schleif for making me get on the diving board.
Thank you to Andy Pooler, Alex Mafucci and Kyle McKim for a great three years of baseball, which I hope will not be ending Tuesday.
Thank you to all the teammates I’ve ever had for pushing me to be the best I could be, sweating alongside me and being my friends.
A lot of people have been asking, “what would you do if you didn’t graduate?” I guess we’ll never know. Thank you.
Sam Mitchell is the son of Joshua and Shelley Mitchell, and the brother of Jacob Mitchell. He has swum and played baseball at the high school for 4 years, and was also a member of student council, along with the diving, football, and golf teams. He plans to attend the University of Maine to pursue a degree in engineering.
Celebrate yourself today
By Eliza Ramos
Hi everyone, my name is Eliza Ramos, and I am graduating high school today. Wow, OK. Before I start, I want to say thank you to the teachers for trusting me to do this, it’s OK… I got you.
When I first began writing this speech, I convinced myself that it had to be serious and thoughtful in order to reflect the chaotic and sometimes very depressing world that we have had to live in for the past year or so. But, my goal isn’t to make you sad or to make you think about who you have to be when you leave this high school or the responsibilities you’re going to have to face when you’re handed your diploma. For these next few minutes, I’m going to ask that you place yourself in a very specific time.
Humor me for a minute and place yourself in the moment when you were a sophomore hearing the bell to dismiss you from your Block A for locker break. I hope you are all smiling right now and thinking, “Wow, that seems like a lifetime ago.” And in a way, it was. We weren’t thinking about spacing in the hallway or which direction we were walking in. So, let’s try to remember what we would’ve thought about. Imagine your routine. Imagine the faces you see pass by you in the hall and the place you’re going. Is it the cafeteria? Your next class maybe? Don’t worry, you’re just dropping off your bag, you’re not going to sit there from 9:17 from 9:34 staring at your Block B teacher awkwardly. Also remember those class times? That was pretty funky. Whatever, you’re in that space. Stay in that space today. Remember that as high school.
Don’t think of today as a way to end this super weird, fuzzy, complicated year. Think of it as a day to reminisce about who you were before you were forced to think about the harder things. Before thoughts of college, a career, responsibilities, making a difference, standing up, speaking out. Yes, these are important but so is being a kid. Maybe you think about today as a party, a celebration, not a stepping stone for the rest of your life. It’s OK, take a break.
In no way am I encouraging any of you to forget the hard stuff, though. It is what grounds us. I don’t pretend to know each and everyone’s individual high school experiences. Everyone has a right to remember it in their own way. For everyone, though, there were highs and lows. Personally, yes I had a lot of fun growing up with you all. Whether it was music, or sports, or just random smiles in the hallway.
But, there were times when it felt like it was me against the world. When it felt like if I didn’t do something, no one would. There are so many ways to feel different, to feel like an outsider, to feel wrong. But, it isn’t until you absolutely embrace every doubt, every fear, every side eye, that you can actually learn to enjoy yourself. Let’s be honest academics were the least of our problems. It was the clubs, the friends, and the life we had on the side that we focused on.
Good or bad, we built reputations and stories and experiences that shaped us into people who were able to take on problems that many adults don’t see, sometimes ever. Our class has had to take on a global pandemic, a climate crisis, and the downfall of centuries of inequality. Unfortunately, these problems hit some people harder than it hit others. It’s OK to remember the bad stuff, it makes the good stuff that much better.
Now, pause again, and go back to locker break. This roller coaster of emotions and memories, this is high school. They are our high school memories to take with us and guide us in what will feel like another lifetime from now. High school is remembering the different versions of yourself and how each of them would have taken on the world.
Today is to celebrate, with no regrets, about what got you here. The people who shared wisdom, whether you wanted it or not. The people that gave you rides back and forth whether they wanted to or not. The people who gave you books you loved and didn’t love. The people who taught you how to talk but also reminded you when you shouldn’t. Sorry about that, teachers. The people who gave you their trust and help with no ulterior motives except that they wanted to see you thrive.
Remember your safe places in high school. The field, the picnic benches, the practice rooms, the classrooms. When we leave, these places might change, the people might change, but what they did for you never will. Be grateful for the people and places and for yourself. For your perseverance, your character, your strength. Celebrate yourself today. Congratulations MDIHS Class of 2021. Thank you.
Eliza Ramos is the daughter of Rachel Kohrman Ramos and Ray Ramos. She will attend American University in Washington D.C in the fall to study Political Science.