Maine Ocean School celebrates first commencement
Village Soup Waldo. Fran Gonzalez. June 14, 2020.

SEARSPORT — Maine Ocean School celebrated its first graduation ever June 12, with an outside ceremony at the historic Captain Sweetser's Inn at 84 East Main St.

The grounds of the former sea captain's home were a fitting setting to honor the three graduates, who focused their studies on marine science, transportation, engineering and management. The historic former home of ship captain Jeremiah Sweetser III, Captain Sweetser's Inn furnished residential services to Maine Ocean School during the 2019-20 school year.

Peter Alexander Shelton, Abigail Ruth Stemp and May Elizabeth Young make up Maine Ocean School's class of 2020.

Both Shelton, who is from Belfast, and Stemp, who hails from Searsport, will attend Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and study marine transportation operations.

Young, who is from Brooks, will attend University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and study sociology and anthropology.

Ocean School Director Kylie Bragdon said she was filled with pride, not only for the students, but for the school staff as well. "It has been an exciting year for us," she said. "The great thing about the school is it's a grassroots, community-based organization and it's been made possible because of the community behind it.

"We had so many unforeseen obstacles," she said. "It's such an honor — I feel blessed."

The marine-oriented school, which opened in September 2018, is a type of specialized public school known as a magnet school (at present there are only two in Maine), funded by both private donations and state funds.

According to Bragdon, the original statute establishing the school contained a "sunset clause" — a termination date that would have forced the school to close by Sept. 19, 2019.

Both Shelton and Stemp spoke at the State House in February in support of the school and of emergency legislation to keep it open.

Ocean School Administrative Assistant Kristie Hamlin said these first few years "were growing years, but we persevered and they learned a lot."

After emergency legislation passed in March, the sunset clause was pushed back a year, according to James Gillway, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Maine Ocean School Foundation.

"We still continue to report to the governor and the Department of Education," he said.

Bragdon said in the fall the school is poised to offer a hybrid education model where students can attend using apps such as Zoom. "We're still working out the logistics," she said, but added it would make the school more accessible to kids across the state.

Before the commencement ceremony, Abigail Stemp said she felt "incredible," while May Young said she was "very excited." Peter Shelton said this milestone "marks an accomplishment for the whole school."

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