May 26, 2018
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Portland graduation controversy

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

Ahhh, graduation! A time of pomp and circumstance. A time to reflect upon and celebrate serious academic achievement.

And, oh yes, a time of bad behavior, silliness, stupid decisions, threats and lawsuits.

By whom? Students, parents, school administrators?

Yes to all of the above.

In case you’ve been busy with important things, here’s a brief synopsis of a small matter that has turned into a nasty, nationwide, news clip.

The scene was the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, where the Bonny Eagle High School graduation was taking place.

Serious and inspiring speeches were given as the cap-and-gown-clad class shuffled their feet, daydreamed and scanned the crowd of thousands for the faces of family members.

Suddenly, with little warning, a giant inflatable rubber ducky emerged from the sea of green on display on the stage.

The graduates giggled. The crowd snickered.

Stern warnings were issued, and just as things settled back to normal, beach balls bobbed to the surface, bouncing from one grinning grad to another.

Enter the police.

A uniformed Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy went onstage and made one young prankster go sit in the dunce chair all by himself.

A second student, who claims never to have touched any inflatable devices, was marched — thankfully, without handcuffs — directly out of the civic center, not by the class marshal, but by the deputy.

Another stern warning was issued by Superintendent Suzanne Lukas to stop with the fun and games. Sort of a not so fun version of the childhood game Quaker’s Meeting.

“Quaker’s Meeting has begun, no more laughter, no more fun. If you show your teeth or tongue, you will pay a forfeit.”

It would seem that Superintendent Lukas was a bit miffed. Clearly the graduation behavior contracts that the seniors were required to sign before being allowed to participate in graduation were not being adhered to. Whoever would have suspected such behavior, having had a contract and all?

As graduation limped along and diplomas were handed out, Justin Denney’s name was called.

Justin rose from his perch, bowed to the crowd, blew a kiss to his mom, revealed an unauthorized cord that he had hidden beneath his gown and strutted across the stage to get his diploma.

Superintendent Lukas was not happy with Justin. Justin, it would seem, was the last straw. Whether it was the bow, the kiss or the cord, clearly Superintendent Lukas had seen enough.

As many in the crowd booed and heckled her, she stood firm, refusing to give Justin his diploma. He returned to his seat empty-handed.

Seems she won that round.

Act II occurred later in the living room of Justin’s home, where he and his family sat with various forms of media to complain of his ill treatment. Justin said it’s all he can think about. His father said his son is a great kid who was embarrassed in front of 3,000 people. His mother said she wants Superintendent Lukas to apologize to her son and present him his diploma while he wears his cap and gown.

Meanwhile, on the World Wide Web, Justin’s heartbreak is being published across the globe complete with jumpy, poor-quality video.

Thousands are commenting.

Bonny Eagle’s graduation ceremony is now a star topic on such sites as,,, and

A writer to the message board for the daytime talk show “The View” suggests that Whoopie Goldberg discuss the incident on the show’s “hot topics” segment.

Act III has yet to occur. I suspect it will be set at Bonny Eagle High School on Monday evening, when those concerned about the incident will meet with the SAD 6 board of directors.

If the tone of the messages being left online are any indication, the meeting could be a doozy.

I happened to attend Bangor High School’s graduation ceremony a couple of weeks ago. There was no giant, inflatable rubber ducky, but there were beach balls. It was hot that day inside the Bangor Civic Center. Not extremely comfortable. I think everyone, especially the graduates who had a big night ahead of them, wanted it to be over sooner rather than later.

The Bangor administration used this as a tool.

Two BHS teachers were assigned to beach ball duty. Each time a ball popped up the teachers would walk down the aisle to fetch it. Meanwhile, all proceedings were halted, which only served to lengthen an already lengthy ceremony. There was a bit of laughter, a few beach balls, which were usually turned over within a few seconds by cooperative students, and a pretty orderly graduation.

There were no police, no dunce chair, and everyone got a diploma.

Now, the proverbial cherry on top of this tragic tale at Bonny Eagle involves a well-known and colorful Portland attorney.

Because, of course, the story would not be complete if the boy’s family didn’t threaten to sue. Hey, who knows, there just may be a few bucks in it for them, right? And good parents never want to pass up an opportunity to teach their children how to take the high road.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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