One seat on the arena floor, among those occupied by the more than 300 members of the C. Milton Wright High School Class of 2018, remained empty during Friday’s commencement ceremony in honor of their late classmate, Tyler James Pope.
Pope, 17, died in a car crash on Route 155 in Level on Aug 28, 2017. School started on Sept. 5, 2017, which would have been the beginning of Pope’s senior year.
Pope’s family was in the stands for the commencement ceremony Friday afternoon at APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College. Tyler’s younger sister, Emily, accepted his diploma.
Pope was a passionate lacrosse player who played for the Mustangs and the Ground Control Lacrosse Club.
The Tyler Pope Memorial Scholarship has been established in his honor, and a scholarship will be awarded each year to a high school senior who “embodies the spirit of Tyler” and displays characteristics such as brotherhood, character, love and sportsmanship, according to the Ground Control website.
The senior class gift will be a bronze mustang statue erected directly outside the school’s turf athletic field, Jordan Landsman, the class’ vice president, announced.
Landsman said CMW athletes will touch the statue as they pass it before every home game.
“Tyler was dedicated to his passions and had a huge, generous heart,” Landsman said. “We want to celebrate Tyler’s life and reinforce his legacy through our senior gift.”
Landsman reminded her classmates that “it is our job to remember that we are a Mustang family forever and to never forget.”
Emily Pope received a standing ovation as she crossed the stage to accept her brother’s diploma, and the crowd remained standing as she returned to her seat.
Graduates remembered Tyler Pope after the ceremony as they gathered with their families outside the arena and noted how their class pulled together following the tragedy.
“We have a great way of coming together when we need to,” Najee Christy, 17, of Bel Air, said “I feel like we have a really close class, almost like we’re family in a way.”
His mother, Cheri Christy, echoed her son’s sentiment.
“His class is a very close group of kids,” he said.
Caroline Ervin, 18, of Bel Air, said she knew Pope when they were in middle school, and they lived in the same neighborhood at the time.
“He was really nice,” she recalled. “He seemed like he really cared about everyone he talked to.”
Ervin said she and her classmates “were definitely able to come together” after his passing. She recalled a vigil held in his memory, which was organized by the Student Government Association and took place Aug. 31.
Ervin plans to study teaching at Harford Community College next year. She said she will be sad to not return to C. Milton Wright as a student.
“The people there are just very nice, and it’s going to be weird to not see them every day,” she said, noting she is still looking forward to the future.
Her father, Tim Ervin, said he is “very proud” his daughter has completed high school.
“She’s got to go and figure out what she’s going to do and the next step from here,” he said. “Tomorrow is Day One of the rest of her life.”
Her fellow graduate, Christy, plans to study chemistry at HCC. He said he is passionate about science and might seek a career in the pharmaceutical industy, either making medication or conducting research.
“It’s really exciting to move on to college, really do something I like to do,” Christy said.
His mother is a CMW alumna; she said she graduated during the 1990s and expressed pride in Najee being part of the Mustang Class of 2018.
“I’m proud, because it was a good school when I went,” Cheri Christy said. “I feel that it served me well me going forward, and so I just wanted him to experience the same thing.”
The graduating class had three valedictorians — Adam Del Colliano, Mason Hoene and Jacob Wright.
Del Colliano discussed how he and his fellow valedictorians might have the top academic ranks, but each member of the Class of 2018 has his or her own special talents and attributes as well.
“We all have our unique combination of talents, and that’s what makes us who we are,” he said.
Del Colliano said that if the graduates keep that in mind, “we will continue to pave the way to our own success.”
“We are beyond proud to be part of an extraordinary group of students,” he said.
Principal Michael Thatcher said the Class of 2018 is the first class to have him as their principal for all four years of high school — their freshman year was his first as CMW’s leader.
“Right now, I want you to know just how proud I am of all of you,” he said. “This is a very special class to me.”