PORTLAND, Maine — Friday afternoon was the perfect time for a walk through downtown Portland.
The air was crisp but the sun was out. And, for less than an hour, teenage laughter drowned out the din of buses and cars moving along the city's packed Congress Street.
For that short time, the seniors of Casco Bay High School had the run of the town.
The school expects all seniors to at least apply to college and claims a 98 percent acceptance rate.
One day each January, the school's senior class enjoys a police escort as they march five-and-a-half blocks to the post office. The students mail "thank you" letters to mentors who helped them through their formative years.
In years past, they used to mail their college applications as well, though that tradition has all but moved online.
Natalina Dinizio and nearly 100 other classmates are college-bound if they so choose.
"Casco Bay just supports all of their students, makes sure that they’re graduating, makes sure they’re completing work," Dinizio said before Friday's walk.
Amin Mohamed's letter was written for his sister. Now choosing between multiple colleges that accepted him, he'll be leaving his support group back home. He said he doesn't fear snakes, only the future.
"After this, I don’t know what’s gonna happen," Mohamed said. "I’m gonna be in a complete new city; a complete new place where I don’t know that many people. I’m still excited for it, although I kind of fear it."
Afnan Hoch seemed to smile during the entire makeshift parade. She had two letters to deliver: one to her dad and one to herself.
"Dear Afnan, I want to thank you for pushing through and being able to finish all of your applications," she read her handwritten note aloud. "I’m proud of you. Even though things might be tough right now, it’s not the end ... Don’t ever stress yourself out too much. Your health comes first. And, always remember that life goes on."
The students said Casco Bay High School is one of a kind. They feel supported and motivated by each other and each teacher.
English teacher Susan McCray is also a student mentor and joined in the celebration.
"It’s about, 'What am I gonna do next?'" McCray posed. "Who am I going to become? And, it doesn’t mean everybody has to go to college, but it’s marking this moment that we have a future; we have something ahead of us. And I think this is the day that they realize that."
College acceptance is a cause for celebration on its own.
When a pandemic forced many to spend most of their high school career talking to friends through a computer screen, a walk downtown sounds downright therapeutic.