Maine School of Science and Mathematics Class of 2019 graduates 36 students
LIMESTONE, Maine — Thirty-six students recently graduated from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics — a Limestone school that was recently ranked as the second best in the nation.
Executive Director David Pearson welcomed those in attendance and introduced student speaker Hannah Zimmerman of Yarmouth during the May 25 ceremony.
“Hannah has contributed to the MSSM community in numerous capacities,” Pearson said. “As a member of Student Senate, Hannah has shared her passion for MSSM and worked tirelessly to serve her classmates. She was instrumental in adding valuable student input as a member of the Program Team; always keeping the student perspective in the forefront.”
Pearson also touched on Zimmerman’s musical talents, complimenting her “beautiful singing voice” and abilities as a “talented flautist,” as well as her athletic abilities which helped the volleyball team “secure a victory in this year’s tournament,” and concluding that she will begin attending Northwestern University in the fall.
Zimmerman said the magnet school “saved her,” and that before attending MSSM she felt “destined to resent,” as she had not been properly challenged educationally until attending as a freshman.
“I was unchallenged, unhappy, unfulfilled to the core of my being,” she said, “and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling any different.”
Once attending an open house in 2014, however, she said she was “greeted by the strangest bunch of people” she’d ever encountered, all of whom seemed “painfully aware of the seemingly unbearable stress they had signed up for.”
“I had never seen such an intense familial bond between a group of wildly different people,” Zimmerman said. “They took comfort in their identity as ‘MSSM-ers.’ I longed to feel the same way, to be part of such a community.”
Zimmerman was born in England and moved to the United States at age 6, and said much of her younger years consisted of “countless people” remarking on her “hodgepodge nationality.” Some, she said, remarked that she was not a real American while others asserted that she did not live in England long enough to be truly considered English.
It was MSSM, Zimmerman said, that truly helped her establish a sense of identity.
“Today,” she said, “when people ask me where I’m from, I’m more likely to say MSSM than England or Yarmouth. It feels like the right answer; MSSM made me who I am.”
MSSM instructor and 2016 Aroostook County Teacher of the Year Michael McCartney delivered the keynote address and, like Zimmerman, emphasized the school’s tremendously positive impact.
“This place has been so incredibly important to each of us,” he said, “whether it was the first place we felt like we truly belonged, the first place we failed a test, the place where we discovered our voice, or, in my case, the place where I was able to become everything that I ever dreamed of being: a teacher, a father, a husband, a mentor, a friend. The thought that we have been changed by this place fills me with warmth and the fact that you have extended to me the courtesy of addressing you today is deeply humbling and intensely gratifying.”
McCartney, who teaches English and History, said he initially planned on incorporating quotations from each book he taught during his time at the school and “weave them together so that even those of you who never had a class with me might get a bit of the full experience.”
And while he ultimately did not choose to do this, McCartney said one passage kept coming back to him in the days leading up to his speech.
“It’s from the very oldest story,” he said, “one so ancient that it makes Beowulf look like a meme about the final season of Game of Thrones. I’m referring of course to The Epic of Gilgamesh.”
McCartney began by explaining that Gilgamesh, who ruled ancient Mesopotamia, sought immortality.
“This first great warrior king was scared,” he said. “He wasn’t scared of monsters. He’d defeated plenty of big ones. He wasn’t scared of the gods, either. Ultimately, he was scared of change and he was scared of the unknown and he was scared of endings. I suspect some of you can empathize with Gilgamesh at this point. I know that I can.”
McCartney said that change is an essential fact of life, “no matter how much we might like to stop it,” adding that he and his students often thought and wrote about what it means to “grow up,” and the changes this can bring.
“Becoming an adult is not about permanence,” he said. “When you get handed your diploma, you’re not an adult, not any more than you are when you turn 18 or graduate from college or vote or buy your first house or get married or have your first child or any of that.”
McCartney said the secret of MSSM isn’t the “beauty of the night skies,” the sunsets, or any part of the curriculum, “the magic of MSSM is the people.”
He said he and those who were able to attend the school all share the common bond of being able to call the school their home, something “rare and precious outside of this community, but so common here that we sometimes take it for granted.”
He shared quotes from authors Neil Gaiman: “Be wise, be brave, be tricky, my children,” and Kurt Vonnegut: “The purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved,” and left the students with two final thoughts.
“The first,” he said. “I owe so much of my life to you. Thank you for believing in me. And the second: remember that I believe in you. And so, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”