Family and friends gathered at the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen Friday morning to celebrate the graduation of the alternative education's program's Class of 2012.
As valedictorian of the 19-member class, 18-year-old Trevor Brunell was the main speaker for the ceremony, and he talked about his time before coming to the CEO. He was sent to alternative education at the start of his 11th grade year after attending Havre de Grace High School.
While at Havre de Grace, Brunell said, he would frequently skip class, pull pranks and didn't like school. That changed, however, when he started at the CEO.
"I started to like to come to school for the first time in a long time," he said.
His senior year, Brunell earned straight A's and a 4.0 weighted grade point average, which he attributed to the alternative ed program's smaller class sizes, shorter class times and the support of his teachers. After graduation, Brunell is headed into the Navy, where he hopes to eventually transfer to South Carolina to study nuclear engineering.
"Had I remained at Havre de Grace," he said, "I highly doubt this would be my future."
Prior to the ceremony, Brunell said he decided to join the Navy because his family members had enlisted before. He also said he will miss his school and his teachers.
Fellow graduate Shane Perreault, 19, said he, too, will miss his teachers and friends. Perreault is headed to Harford Community College for general studies and said some day he plans on opening a fast food business.
Perreault's friend, 18-year-old Brianna VanHart, also will be attending Harford Community College.
VanHart, who said she felt "accomplished" and "happy" to be finally graduating, plans to major in criminal justice at HCC.
"I like helping people and when you work for the law, you help people," she said.
Diontae McNeil, 20, said he was excited to be graduating Friday and will try to go to Harford Community College to study computer technology. He likewise said he will miss his friends from the CEO.
One of Friday's other speakers was a recent graduate of the school, De Ariel Sanders, who was part of the Class of 2011 and is a full-time student at Harford Community College. When she had two children during high school, Sanders said, she didn't want to return to a normal high school and was planning on getting her GED.
With her parents' urging, however, Sanders started at the alternative education program instead so she could earn her high school diploma.
"I consider it to be one of my best accomplishments," she added.
After graduating, Sanders said, she started to consider college an option because so many people in her life believed that she could do it. Now, she plans on earning her associate's degree at HCC before transferring into the Johns Hopkins nursing program.
Representing Del. Glen Glass, Horace Tittle also spoke at the ceremony, calling the graduation a new beginning and encouraging the students to "many more successes to come."
Another speaker, Harford County Board of Education President Leonard Wheeler, told both the students and their parents that the new graduates will still need love and support as they go forward.
"They will continue to need that," Wheeler said, "and the payoff will be great."