PAE hosts 2017 Graduation Ceremony

At the graduation ceremony this week for the Portland Adult Education (PAE) Class of 2017, graduate Noor Aldulaimi advised her classmates, “Don’t give up and don’t shy away from achieving your goals.”

The ceremony, held June 15 at Merrill Auditorium, was PAE’s 169th commencement. PAE has been educating Portland adults since 1848. Graduating this week were 41 students who attained high school diplomas and 64 students who passed the HiSET test (formerly GED).

PAE graduates haven’t taken the usual high school route for reasons such as illness, disability, working full-time to support their families, moving to a new country where they didn’t speak the language, homelessness and even war. Some PAE students have already completed high school or college, but in another country and in another language.  The Class of 2017 ranged in age from older teenagers to adults near retirement.

The Class of 2017 illustrates how much additional prior education adults often bring to their studies at PAE. It included students who trained as midwives, doctors and engineers in their own countries, now starting over on educational journeys  in their new country. Also included in the class were students who had attended local high schools but had to leave for reasons such as earning money for their families, but who returned to earn their diplomas. In addition, 15 graduates worked with PAE’s Street Academy for Homeless Youth to earn their credential.

Aldulaimi was one of two class speakers. The 27-year-old, who is from Iraq, has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from the University of Baghdad, but had to leave her country in 2014 because of war.

She set about earning a second high school diploma from PAE. “Attending Portland Adult Education was  a turning point in my life,” the mother of two children said. She PAE helped her not only learn English but integrate into American society and make new friends.

Aldulaimi plans to attain a master’s degree in agriculture. A $1,000 scholarship she won will assist her in that goal. It was the first scholarship from the family and friends of Beata Vest, who honored her memory by awarding a scholarship to a PAE student in celebration of Beata’s love of languages and her commitment to welcoming newcomers to Portland by helping them to learn English.

Kelly Flamenco-Molina was another class speaker. Flamenco-Molina, 40, has completed nearly 30 courses to perfect her writing skills in English in preparation for higher education, while also raising a daughter who required a lung transplant at 20 months and continues to need biweekly appointments with Boston specialists. Flamenco-Molina has a law degree from El Salvador, and now plans to attend the University of Southern Maine to study business.

“Remember, it’s never too late to get a high school diploma,” Flamenco-Molina said.

She won a $500 Sandy Mawford Award.

The ceremony also included remarks from PAE Director Anita St. Onge and Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana.

Botana said PAE students “represent the essence of hard work and perseverance.”

Botana, who was born in Cuba and whose family came to the United States when he was a child, said his family, “like many of our families, came looking for safety and looking for opportunity.”

His family, he said, also “understood the importance of education,” and adult education played a role in helping his grandparents learn English and become citizens.

Botana said that “every dollar we invest in adult education is not just a dollar we invest in our students.” It’s also, he said, a dollar invested in their children, their families and the community. “It’s an investment in the future of Portland,” he said.

PAE, which is part of the Portland Public Schools, typically serves more than 4,000 adults each year, in academic and ELL classes, as well as enrichment and job skills classes.

At the ceremony, teacher Ashley Storrow and Putnam Smith performed an original song, “I Have Never Given Up,” written by PAE students in an intermediate English class during a songwriting workshop led by Smith. Storrow, who teaches the English through Song class at PAE, was joined by her students for “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers.

Also in attendance at the commencement were Portland Board of Public Education and City Council members.

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