LEWISTON — In a ceremony that had a United Nations feel, a large class graduated from Lewiston High School on Friday night at a packed Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

The Class of 2017 numbered 289, up from 214 last June.

Friday’s ceremony included foreign language speeches and a keynote speaker who was a refugee from Somalia. The graduation represented the high school’s diverse student population.

Principal Shawn Chabot gave the welcome introduction in English. Greetings were followed by others who spoke in Somali, French, Arabic and Spanish.

The keynote speaker was ZamZam Mohamud, who was among the first wave of Somali immigrants who came to Lewiston in 2001.

Introducing her, Chabot read from a 2015 Downeast Magazine story that described her as someone who came to town with only $40 in her pocket, but 14 years later she seemed to know everyone in Lewiston.

Since she arrived, her two children have graduated from Lewiston High School and from college. Chabot said Mohamud has become a community leader, “a great example of how we should treat one another, a loving person.”

Speaking with an African accent and wearing a blue hijab, Mohamud started her speech by congratulating “all the graduates of Lewiston High School, Class of 2017! Go, Blue Devils!”

She told the graduates that challenges will come their way. They must be strong and help others. “You will get better at it every time life throws you a curve.”

Mohamud encouraged them to count their blessings, and spoke from the heart about how so many in the world don’t have what they’ve been given: a free education.

“You are indeed privileged,” she said, trying to hold back tears but failing. “Sorry, guys,” she said with a smile. She did not have the same opportunities growing up, she said, but her life story illustrates “how you can be raised by a village, and what you can become when you are positive and do not give up.”

She said the graduating students are the future leaders, the community is counting on them. “Be hopeful, be grateful, be respectful and be proud of yourself.” When she sat down, Mohamud received a standing ovation.

Class Advisor Erica Gosselin told students to ask for help, that “independence doesn’t mean doing everyone by yourself.” A group presentation is easier than a solo one. That’s true in life, she said, telling them don’t try to go it alone.

Her remarks were then said in French, then Arabic, by graduate Ilham Mohamed.

Student speakers were Class President Tawni Zamrock, Valedictorian Morgan Eliasen and Salutatorian Arissa Shaw.

Eliansen told her classmates that they have proven they have passion for their future because “we have all made it to this moment here. I know I’m not alone when I say showing up to every class this year was a struggle at times.”

They’ve achieved milestones, “however this is just the beginning. Do let the last four years be the only highlight of your life,” Eliansen said. “There’s so much more waiting for each and every one of us.”

Shaw spoke of childhood, how babies’ natural reaction “is to grasp what’s in our hands,” the fingers of parents and relatives. The power of touch and connection is important, she said.

While the hand holding stops as children mature, “in a metaphorical sense we have continued to hold each other’s hands throughout our adolescence,” supporting those they love. She encouraged them to find someone who has influenced their lives and hug them, hold them, thank them.

“We need to be the kind of people that grow up to love more.”

Before the ceremony began, Rugiya Awil and Jeromey Rancourt stood waiting in line.

“I struggled in high school, but it’s worth it,” Awil said. Born in Kenya, she came to Lewiston in 2009. She plans to go to Central Maine Community College to study psychology.

Awil said it meant a lot that Mohamud was the keynote speaker. “It’s progress,” she said. “The fact that she’s a refugee who immigrated here the same as me, she’s a good example.”

Rancourt said high school “has been a long four years” and he was excited to graduate. His next chapter is playing junior hockey in Michigan for Fox Motors. “I can’t wait for that,” he said.

ZamZam Mohamud, shown here during a retirement party for library director Rick Speer, gave the keynote address during Lewiston High School graduation on Friday. 

Lewiston High School graduates walk into the Androscoggin Bank Colisee during the processional on Friday. 

Lewiston High School graduate Courtney Caouette takes a picture of her Class of 2017 classmates prior to the start of graduation at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston on Friday. 

Scotty Venable, left, Daniel Hull, Robert Homan and Benjamin Hamm pass time in the hall of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee prior to the start of graduation in Lewiston on Friday. 

Abdirashid Abukar, left, Benjamin Musese and Ibrahim Ahmed graduated from Lewiston High School on Friday. 

Lewiston High School graduate Sara Laroche gets a hug from her classmate’s brother, Brock Rancourt, prior to the start of graduation at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston on Friday. Rancourt’s brother, Jeromey Rancourt, also graduated from LHS on Friday. 

Lewiston High School graduate Azwad Ahmed gets a hug from guidance counselor Peter Hutchinson prior to the start of graduation at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston on Friday. Ahmed came to Lewiston from Bangladesh during his sophomore year. 

Scotty Venable dances in the hall of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee while celebrating his graduation from Lewiston High School on Friday. 

Lewiston High School Class of 2017:
289 — Number of graduates, up from 214 in 2016
247 — Attending higher education; 137 going to four-year college; 103 to two-year college; three to one-year trade school; four going to prep school.
15 — Number going into workforce
2 — Going into the military
20 — Undecided or gap year; one will play junior hockey; and four will be exchange students
Recessional song: “Congratulations” by Post Malone
How members of the class will be remembered: “They are hardworking, mature and genuinely care about each other and their education, as evidenced by being the largest group of high school graduates to cross the Colisee stage in recent memory,” said Assistant Principal Jay Dufour. “The class is full of stellar athletes, artists, scholars and community leaders.”

Lewiston High School Class of 2017:

289 — Number of graduates, up from 214 in 2016

247 — Attending higher education; 137 going to four-year college; 103 to two-year college; three to one-year trade school; four going to prep school.

15 — Number going into workforce

2 — Going into the military

20 — Undecided or gap year; one will play junior hockey; and four will be exchange students

Recessional song: “Congratulations” by Post Malone

How members of the class will be remembered: “They are hardworking, mature and genuinely care about each other and their education, as evidenced by being the largest group of high school graduates to cross the Colisee stage in recent memory,” said Assistant Principal Jay Dufour. “The class is full of stellar athletes, artists, scholars and community leaders.”


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