Harpswell Coastal Academy’s Class of 2023, the final class to graduate from the charter school, poses for photos in the gymnasium on June 2. (Miles Bergquist photo)

On June 2, 18 students graduated from Harpswell Coastal Academy in the school’s final commencement. Even as the school prepares to close, the graduates chose not to grieve the loss, but to celebrate their school and what it gave them.

The first speaker, interim Head of School Mel Christensen Fletcher, touched on the instability that the class faced. In May 2022, the Maine Charter School Commission approved a consolidation that brought HCA’s high schoolers from a Brunswick campus to Harpswell. In October 2022, the commission chose not to renew HCA’s charter.

“It’s hard not to acknowledge the challenges and uncertainty you have all weathered over the last year, and I want you all to know that getting you to graduation was a fundamental motivation for all of the work that went into our consolidation,” Christensen Fletcher said.

The Charter School Commission approved the consolidation after hearing from dozens of students, parents, alumni and staff.

“Many of you were at the forefront of that fight, and your courage and vulnerability in sharing your stories are a huge reason why you are all going to be HCA graduates today,” Christensen Fletcher continued.

She urged students to maintain a connection to the tight-knit HCA community.

“It breaks my heart that you will not have a school to come back to as alumni, but you have a community that you can always rely on,” she said. “You are not alone as you begin this next chapter of your life, so stay connected with the people here that you care about.”

The graduates’ speeches began next. Ella-Rose Biette started by reminiscing about her early days at HCA.

“I have been a student at HCA since my sixth grade year, and I have seen the many changes and hardships we all have gone through in my seven years of being here,” Biette said.

Biette said the school’s culture of acceptance enabled her to grow and to develop strength and empathy.

“Many of us came to this school for a fresh start, to get away from the pressure and mistreatment we were receiving at our district schools,” Biette said. “And even though my experiences before HCA were not as difficult as many students here, I have still found sanctuary in this community.”

Speaking about pillars of strength she found within the school’s walls, Biette singled out Kaitlyn Pulju, a guidance counselor; Caleb Christensen Fletcher, a math teacher; and the late Amanda Wogaman-Hunt, another guidance counselor who died in a car crash in September 2021.

“I so very wish Wogaman could be here today to see the wonderful people we all have grown into since our middle school delinquent years,” Biette said.

Fellow graduate Nolan Kalil delivered the next speech. Kalil acknowledged HCA’s hardships, but focused on the good the school has done.

“This school has been a beacon of light for so many students, parents, teachers and community members, and with its closing does not come a fading of that light,” Kalil said.

The ceremony ended as any other graduation would, with many tears, hugs, photos and a shower of graduation caps.