Family and friends gathered in the Havre de Grace High School auditorium Thursday evening to celebrate the graduation Class of 2012.
Tyler Cook, the class valedictorian, was the main speaker for the evening and started his speech with a story of his great-great-grandfather, Oscar Cook, who was forced to leave school at age 13 to work on his family farm. His desire for learning, however, led him to cut his foot with an ax so he could continue his studies, Cook said.
Tyler urged his classmates to never give up and to treat obstacles as hurdles, rather than fences. Education, he added, is the greatest gift the graduates have been given.
Also offering greetings was the class salutatorian, Elise Starkey, who compared the atmosphere at Havre de Grace High School to that of a family. She urged fellow students to not forget where they came from and for parents and teachers to not allow them to forget.
Whether it took 50 or five years, Elsie said, they will all return to Havre de Grace eventually.
"No matter how long it takes, Havre de Grace is home," she said.
Class President Kaitlyn Bubb gave a brief speech at the start of the ceremony as well, pointing out all of the unique attributes of Havre de Grace High School, including the small size. Other schools in the county could not accommodate the graduating classes on their own auditorium stages and everyone knows everyone.
"There is a huge sense of community in Havre de Grace that I believe you can't find anywhere else," she said.
The seniors gathered in groups outside the school before the ceremony, many of them with excited and mixed feelings about their graduation. Among them was 18-year-old Roxanna Ackerman, who said it was "exhilarating."
"I have been waiting 15 years for it," she said.
With high school behind her, Roxanna said, she will study technology at Harford Community College because it is something she has always been good at. Similarly, Christopher Spence, 17, is headed to Harford Community too, with plans to pursue a degree in art.
"I've always liked art," he said. "It's been my thing since I was 4."
Although Christopher said he has mixed feelings, his friend, 17-year-old Timothy Corbin, said he is happy to graduate and glad to be done with high school. Timothy is attending Harford Community as well and then later plans to transfer to a four-year college and major in engineering.
He already has some experience in the field, having been on the robotics team at Havre de Grace for two years and serving as the lead programmer and captain this year.
"Engineering is fun," he said.
Pursuing a degree in nursing, Iasia Barksdale, 18, is starting her college career at Towson before transferring to Kutztown University for nursing. She initially planned to become a lawyer, Barksdale said, but chose nursing because it is easier. Leaving Havre de Grace, Barksdale said, she will miss the school and "getting on [her] teachers' nerves."
With her was Taylor Edwards, 17, who said she would miss her childhood. She plans on starting at Harford Community College for general studies before transferring to a four-year college for social work.
"[I want] to help kids who've been through divorce and have been abused, because my parents are divorced," Taylor said.
Several politicians and guests spoke at Thursday's graduation, including school board member Alysson Krchnavy, Harford County Executive David Craig, State Sen. Barry Glassman and County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti.
Glassman, who graduated from Havre de Grace in 1980, said he is proud to be a Warrior, "even a 50-year-old one."
Craig briefly mentioned that a scope study was ready to be submitted to the school board for a new school in Havre de Grace and encouraged students and residents to help make sure the plans move forward.
Del. Mary-Dulany James, another graduate of Havre de Grace, left the Class of 2012 with three things she said she often repeats to her own children, including that the simplest answer is usually the right one, the goal is to make progress and to be "great in your own way" and that education is the students' job.
"It's nobody else's job," she said. "It's just yours, it starts now and lasts a lifetime."
Another delegate, Donna Stifler, told the seniors to serve other people, including the men and women who serve their country. Serving, she added, is "selfish," because it feels good to do so.
Last to offer greetings, Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty took the stage and expressed how proud he is to be a Warrior.
He also referred to the motto of Havre de Grace High School, which is "Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve."
"The road to success is giving back and you do that by service," Dougherty said.