Like most other high school graduates, Perryville High School's Class of 2013 will no doubt find their commencement ceremony unforgettable, not just for reaching an important milestone in their lives, but also for it having taken place in the midst of pouring rain.
Year after year, Perryville High School dictates that graduation takes place outside on the football field to ensure that enough family and friends can view the ceremony, as the school's auditorium offers much less seating. So try as it might, Thursday evening's rain did not force ceremonies indoors.
Graduates were seated in chairs on the right of the football field, with a stage to their right and faculty and dignitaries seated in chairs to the stage's left. Family and friends of the graduates took everything in from the stadium bleachers, the prepared among them carrying umbrellas.
Before they began their procession to their seats outside, graduates lined up in the cafeteria leading through a hallway in reverse alphabetical order, where they would proceed through doors leading outside to the football stadium. Young men graduates wore blue caps and gowns, while young women wore white caps and gowns.
While waiting with his fellow graduates in the cafeteria, Port Deposit resident Kyle Billings said the feeling of graduating had yet to sink in.
"Ask me in a couple of days," Billings said. He plans to attend Salisbury University this fall to study biochemistry. Looking back, he said his favorite memory of Perryville High School is winning the state championship with the school marching band.
Over his cap and gown, Billings wore a light blue stole signifying his membership in the National Honor Society, brown honor cords for his membership in the International Thespian Society, pink honor cords for being in the school band, and green/gold cords for work in a biomedical sciences program.
Tressa Bell, a resident of North East, said she felt very nervous about walking across the stage and receiving her diploma.
"I don't want to trip," Bell said. She had already tripped and fallen at her eighth grade graduation.
Looking back, Bell said she won't miss "waking up at 6:30 every morning to go to school." She will miss her sister, a junior at Perryville.
Dark clouds, bright smiles
As the graduates proceeded through the stadium and took their seats, the sky thundered ominously and dark clouds loomed overhead.
Thankfully, Perryville High School principal Charles Helm kept the ceremony short, modifying it so students would receive their diplomas after short initial remarks by Cecil County Board of Education member Donna Zane, the commencement speaker.
In heavily shortened remarks, Zane hoped that the cheers and air horns honoring the graduates that evening would not be in vain.
"Wherever you go after today, always act in such a way that everyone here will still want to cheer for you," Zane said. "I wish you happiness and peace."
Zane then proceeded with Helm and assistant principals David Dollenger, John Artinger and Day Mashongamhende to the right of the stage where they stood ready to receive the graduates and hand them their diplomas. As English teacher John LoPresto announced their names, students walked across the stage to collect their diplomas, most of them smiling brightly.
After the last student, Thomas Lee Zurvalec, collected his diploma and returned to his seat, Class President Juston Montanez came to the stage to give his remarks and reminisced about each year the class spent at the school.
"As much was we have complained, we all know there is no place we would rather have went to than Perryville High," Montanez said. "Embrace the last few moments we've spent here, and the moments we have created."
Salutatorian Gregory Branigan reminded students not to forget who helped them along the way.
"We owe a great to deal to friends and family, and honestly without them we would not be here today," Branigan said.
Branigan, who will attend Villanova University in the fall, did not interrupt his speech even as the rain picked up and started falling steadily.
"My fellow seniors, congratulations. We have completed the very worrying task of completing four years here," Branigan said, before encouraging his classmates to plan their futures no matter how fearful they were.
'anyone trying to escape...'
Valedictorian Joseph Dawson began his remarks by addressing parents, faculty, staff and "anyone trying to escape ten minutes early."
"You're not thinking about the future," Dawson, who held a 4.883 weighted grade point average, joked. "You're just waiting until this is over so you can run out of the rain and escape to Olive Tree."
Dawson's speech was peppered with jokes, distracting the audience from the rain and drawing laughter even as some in the bleachers scrambled to find umbrellas and seek shelter.
"Don't pass your days sitting on the couch eating cheesy poofs and watching 'Honey Boo Boo,'" Dawson said as the crowd laughed, reminding his classmates to "stay curious and stay involved."
"With every new day there's another chance to grow and to learn," Dawson said. "Life is not a race, but a gateway. Take time to explore your world."
Dawson even joked that he could have made his speech a lot shorter, but wanted the crowd to get a little more "moist."
"Getting booed off stage is just the applause from ghosts," he said, grinning and lowering his arms repeatedly in mock encouragement as the audience and his classmates booed and laughed.
Dawson couldn't resist ending with one more joke.
"Now we should get out of the rain and stop being moist," Dawson said in his last words as the crowd laughed and applauded.
A parting gift
Principal Helm agreed.
"My last gift to the senior class is to skip my remarks and make this graduation official," Helm said, drawing cheers as the graduates proceeded orderly, but quickly, to the running track on the right of the front of the field to line up as Donna Zane spoke.
"By the power vested in me by the Cecil County Board of Education and the state of Maryland, I now declare you eligible to earn a high school diploma from the state of Maryland," Zane announced, as students and the audience cheered and threw their caps in the air.
Despite all of the rain, friends and family rushed from the bleachers to embrace their graduates as "Firework" by Katy Perry played over the PA system. Graduates Amber Adams and Emily Gelder, then sang a duet postponed from earlier in the evening under the cover of an umbrella held by music teacher Jill Welsheimer.
Taking refuge after the ceremony concluded with her family under an pavilion attached to one of the school's rear entrances, graduate Jaclyn Janney wasn't happy about the rain, but was still proud to graduate.
"It kind of sucked, but it was still awesome," Janney said, smiling.