At 17, Hannah Brier has already learned an important life lesson – that she should never be afraid to speak out for what’s right.
Brier is one of 206 students graduating from South Portland High School on Sunday, and her future includes studying international development and social change at Clark University.
During high school, Brier’s focus has been on civil rights and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard. She hopes to leave a legacy of “speaking up, making my voice heard and not being afraid to speak out.”
That legacy includes advocating for changes to the dress code at the high school to make sure it’s gender neutral and enforced equitably. At South Portland High, Brier was also co-president of the school’s Amnesty International Club and a member of the Culture Club.
In addition, Brier participated in the Gay, Straight, Trans Alliance, the Civil Rights Team, student government, theater and the Chamber Singers, where she served as president this year.
To expand her horizons, Brier also spent the fourth quarter of her junior year studying abroad in Israel and Poland. She attended the Alexander Muss School in Hod HaSharon, which is about an hour from Jerusalem and 20 minutes from Tel Aviv.
Brier is also involved in the Seeds of Peace camp in Otisfield, which brings together youth living in areas divided by political conflict and violence and teaches them peacemaking skills.
Brier is the daughter of Amy and Jon Brier and has a sister, Abbie, who will be a freshman at South Portland High in the fall. Her mother is an educational technician at Small School in South Portland and her father is in marketing. The family attends Temple Beth El in Portland.
Of her time in Israel, Brier said that it was “a very interactive experience.” Although she lived in a dorm, she was able to spend weekends and vacations with local host families to get thoroughly immersed in the culture.
Brier joked that she ate a lot of hummus while she was in the Middle East. She also picked up some Hebrew, “but not much.”
During her time at Alexander Muss, she took site-specific history courses and got to see “a lot more than a normal tourist.”
She said her time in Poland, which was mostly spent visiting the sites of former concentration camps and learning about the Holocaust, was “very hard,” particularly learning first hand what life was like for the Jews confined to the camps.
Brier’s goal is to go back to the Middle East to learn as much as she can about the conflicts that divide people there.
“I want to be educated about what is happening and form my own opinions,” she said.
Brier called Seeds of Peach “my home. It’s amazing. I didn’t expect to be as moved and as touched as I was. Everyone should have this experience.”
She also called Seeds of Peace “a very honest, real place where you can be yourself. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world we live in. I’ve learned that I can make a difference as an individual.”
Brier will work at Seeds of Peace this summer and will also spend time working with young children.
“I love working with 5-year-olds. That’s the age when kids begin to learn about the wider world. They’re where the change starts. Kids, of all ages, know a lot more than adults give them credit for,” she added.
Brier is looking forward to graduation, although she knows she’ll also miss South Portland.
“I will definitely miss (home), but I’m also excited about all the new opportunities,” she said.
She had nothing but praise for the teachers and staff in the South Portland schools.
“I think we’re really lucky to have the administration and teachers we have,” she said. “They are really knowledgeable and are there to help students.”
Brier said she is grateful to many teachers and staff at South Portland High for their support and their help in “pushing at the boundaries that were restraining me.”
She had special praise for guidance counselor Thomas Bradford, who she said was always there with a piece of candy, good advice and a joke to make her laugh. Outside of school, Brier said, one of her most important mentors is Tim Wilson, the director of Seeds of Peace in Maine.
While Brier knows it will be difficult to leave the familiarity of her hometown, she also knows first hand that “growth comes from discomfort.”
A closer look
South Portland High School will hold graduation at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, at the school, 637 Highland Ave. Call 767-3266 for more information.
Hannah Brier is graduating from South Portland High School on Sunday. This photo was taken at her family’s summer camp on Sebago Lake.