Patterson Mill High's 243 graduating seniors were ready to take on the future beginning Thursday evening, sitting proudly in Edgewood High School's gymnasium.
They even had it specially tossed to them by Harford County Councilman "Cap'n" Jim McMahan, who told the students to open their hands, then "threw" them the future.
"Please take good care of it," he exclaimed, pressing the students earlier on what they had learned.
"Did you learn to think on your own, not just take what somebody tells you?" McMahan asked. "Did you learn to make good choices? Did you learn about your country? It's complex, but did you get the basics? You're free. You can pursue any endeavor, without government intervention."
Principal Wayne Thibeault, called "Mr. T" by the seniors, highlighted the many endeavors already pursued by the students.
He noted they have collectively earned $1.25 million in scholarships or awards.
"This is unbelievable," he said. "For a graduating class of 243 students, this amount is truly staggering."
He said Patterson Mill is one of the top 1,500 high schools in the country, according to The Washington Post, and pointed out two students, Vongsakon Suntaroj and Ryan Humphreys, who will be entering the Marine Corps.
The class keynote speaker, Zachary Stryjewski, said the school is in the top 1 percent of schools in the nation.
His classmates were the first ones to graduate who attended Patterson Mill from eighth grade through 12th.
"What an honor it is to be standing in front of you tonight," Stryjewski told the audience.
"When we were freshmen, this school had no school spirit yet and hadn't accomplished anything to be proud of," he said about his class.
But Patterson Mill soon brought out the spirit of Husky Nation, Stryjewski said.
"Halfway through the year, we were told we were cheering too hard, we had to settle down," he said, getting a laugh from the audience. "We just cheered harder."
Stryjewski also said he hopes his classmates will work hard and focus on what is important in life.
"Some of us would rather party and be cool than succeed. Some of us would rather sleep in on Saturday morning than go to work," he said.
"Today's world is brutal. It is harder than ever to succeed. As I speak, someone is probably being laid off. As I speak, someone is being foreclosed on. But as I speak, someone is working hard."
Stryjewski said the distance to success is 18 inches, pointing to the distance between his head and his heart.
Other speakers also reminded students to stay goal-oriented.
Board of education president Leonard Wheeler said: "This is a moment in time, a moment that will never come again in the same way."
Del. Susan McComas said she never thought she would be standing before the Patterson Mill graduates when she was graduating from high school in the Wyoming prairies.
"Try to do your best every day and stay positive, because we do live in challenging times," she said.
Angela Zalesak, senior class president, said the camaraderie and togetherness among her peers has been "unmatched."
"Together we have created memories that will last forever," she said. "It's crazy to think that five years have passed since we walked through that golden arch [at the front] of Patterson Mill."
Taylor Staton, class valedictorian, said the class has learned a lot from Patterson Mill teachers, remembering when she and her classmates were in middle school.
"It's hard to believe that some of the people I knew back then have grown into mature young adults ready to pursue their future," she said.
Staton added she expects a lot from some of them in particular, calling out one of the salutatorians.
"There is no doubt that John Swank will be more successful than Bill Gates and even Steve Jobs," she said, getting a cheer from her classmates.
Staton thanked the principal, parents and even her friends.
"We have been given the tools for a better future," she said.
Other graduates awaiting their diplomas also seemed hopeful and proud of their tight-knit Patterson Mill class.
Zoe Zublick, who hopes to attend James Madison University, said the event was "surreal."
"I really enjoyed high school," she said, adding it helped to be really involved in programs such as the marching band and field hockey.
"It's a big step," Zoe said about graduation. "It hasn't sunk in yet."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun