James Hunneman enjoys his graduation 'miracle'

Here with his grandmother Victoria Smith

By Mindy Favreau, Times Record Contributor

FREEPORT - James Hunneman felt lucky to be graduating with his Freeport High School class on Sunday.

Only a month ago, the skier and soccer and lacrosse player wasn't sure he'd ever be able to walk again, much less march across the stage and accept his diploma. On the night of May 4, Hunneman was riding in a car with friends when the driver lost control. The car slammed into some trees, pinning Hunneman inside.

After rescue workers cut off the car's roof to free him, a LifeFlight of Maine helicopter took Hunneman to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. He suffered severe head trauma and broken bones in his face, and spent nearly two days in a coma and then nearly two weeks in rehabilitation.

While his classmates were heading off to prom, Hunneman was still in the hospital, wondering what else he would have to miss.

"I was worried I'd never get back to having a normal life," he said.

But, thanks to a near-miraculous recovery, Hunneman was able to throw his cap into the air and brandish a can of Silly-String with his 90 classmates Sunday afternoon. His mother, Sam (Polly) - who had waited anxiously at his bedside wondering if he would ever wake up again - was now able to wait in front of the stage, camera in hand, to snap a picture of her son in his burgundy cap and gown.

"The fact that he's here is miraculous," she said after the ceremony. "When someone tells you your son has a severe brain injury, you kind of go through every possibility, whether he'll wake up again or not, whether he'd be here, let alone march."

Despite the crash and his injuries, Hunneman was able to finish his senior project on time, and the day before graduation he completed a four-mile run.

"In the beginning I had no idea if I'd be able to march, but seeing myself recover, I was like, 'All right, I'll definitely be able to come back," he said. "I've recovered so fast, it's crazy. I'm back to perfectly normal."

Hunneman plans to attend the University of Maine for a year, before transferring to a school out west.

Emma Albright gave the senior address, in which she likened the blossoming futures of her and her peers to the roses the graduates handed out to family members during the ceremony.

"Our time here has made us into who we are and who we will be," she said.

Albright finished by saying, "Together we conquered high school; apart we shall conquer life."

The class of 2007 voted Freeport Middle School teacher Dave Mason their keynote speaker. Mason shared with the graduates a comical story about his first teaching job in Lincoln, where his arrogance and ignorance made him the butt of another teacher's prank. He urged the graduates to embrace the concept of life-long learning.

"When you leave here today, one of your teachers will be going with you, and that's experience - the experiences you've already had and the ones you will have," he said. Mason called experience "the cruelest" and "most brutal teacher," but, he advised, "She's also the best."

Class president Wade Johnston ended the ceremony on a light note by enlightening his peers on his "firm belief in buffet food." He described Freeport High School as the ultimate buffet, where everyone got the chance to talk and laugh together, and they learned how to choose what they truly wanted.

"It's not the food, but who you eat with, and I couldn't have chosen a better table to sit at."