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Southern Aroostook celebrates graduation in social distancing fashion

DYER BROOK, Maine — The graduating seniors for Southern Aroostook Community School celebrated their completion of high school in a fashion unlike any other in the school’s history. 

Family of Southern Aroostook’s Class of 2020 gathers to watch their celebration, in social distancing fashion. (Alexander MacDougall | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Like other schools that have managed to hold graduations despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, measures were taken to ensure social distancing and limit human contact.

The ceremony was held outdoors, with families seated either in cars or in square zones close to the podium. With 16 students graduating, it was small enough to accommodate family and hold the event. 

“I’m not going to lie — it’s been a difficult year this year,” said Jon Porter, the school’s superintendent. “Not having our kids in the building has left faculty and staff crushed. But they push through and push their feelings aside, and they’ve restored to our kids some remote learning.”

Some students also took the opportunity to speak at the ceremony, such as Sydney Brewer, the senior class president. Brewer dedicated her speech to Michaela Calaman, a member of the Class of 2020 who died in 2017 from Krabbe disease, a rare disease which affects the nervous system. 

Paul Sherman, a math teacher at Southern Aroostook, speaks to the graduating class of 2020. (Alexander MacDougall | Houlton Pioneer Times)

“Michaela was the sweetest but sassiest kid I ever met,” Brewer said. “Her laughter was always filling up the classroom. No matter where she was, she made sure that she was always hanging out or teasing somebody.”

Brewer also said her most touching memory was when she was asked to be Calaman’s voice, as she had difficulty speaking due to her disease. 

“This was the biggest lesson she had ever taught me, and that was to be a voice for the voiceless. And to use my voice when others can’t,” Brewer said. 

An empty seat was placed among the graduating class in tribute of Calaman, with roses laid on it by each of the graduating students. 

Class Vice President Makaeyln Porter, spoke about how COVID-19 has affected the class and how to deal with the new changes. She played samples of several Disney songs, such as the song “When I’m Older” from the movie “Frozen 2” to help illustrate her points. 

An empty seat was placed among graduating students in honor of Michaela Calaman, who died in 2017 from Krabbe disease. (Alexander MacDougall | Houlton Pioneer Times)

“We can’t make sense of everything that’s going on right now, but hopefully as time goes on, as we get older, we will learn why life had to change so drastically,” Porter said. 

Paul Sherman, a math teacher at Southern Aroostook, philosophically challenged the students to discover who they are and to make good decisions in their journeys ahead.

“You got a lot of choices coming up — good ones, bad ones. You can choose to be good, but it doesn’t come naturally,” Sherman said. “This is for you to find out. This is what the great adventure you’re about to step out on is as you gain more freedom.”

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