Thursday's commencement ceremony for the Bel Air High School Class of 2016 was a time of celebration, but it was also a time for somber reflection about the deaths of two of the graduates' classmates after a car accident in October 2014, early in their junior year.
Marvin Hernandez, of Bel Air, and Ryan Harris, of Forest Hill, were both 16 years old on the night of Oct. 3, 2014. Marvin was driving his family's 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse, and Ryan was the only passenger.
Marvin was driving along the wet and winding Mount Vista Road in Baltimore County when he lost control, went off the road and struck a tree. Both boys were rescued from the wrecked car, but they were later pronounced dead at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Rosedale.
Two members of the senior class selected as the traditional student commencement speakers paid tribute to Marvin and Ryan during their Thursday evening graduation ceremony at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College.
Mary Talbard described them as "two people who have helped us more than they know."
"I did not know either of those boys personally, but I've seen the [outpouring] of love and support since their passing," Talbard said.
She said adolescents often think they are invincible, but "truth be told, we are in the prime time of arrogance."
"Marvin and Ryan taught us to appreciate what we have," Talbard said.
Her fellow graduate, Lena Sierocinski, wrote her speech as a poem, a reflection on her experiences over 12 years of school.
She urged her classmates to "take a moment to mourn the ones we lost."
"In our junior year, we lost two of our best/Marvin and Ryan, I hope you're at rest," Sierocinski recited.
Senior class President Margo Sybert also reflected on Marvin and Ryan's deaths as she recalled her class' high school experiences.
"While we did suffer some tragic losses along the way, we were able to overcome these tragedies and make our [fellow] students and teachers proud in more ways than one," Sybert said. "The Bobcat family is a strong one, and we are very fortunate to have been part of it for so long."
She announced the Class of 2016 gift, a memorial bench for the school courtyard, accompanied by a plaque, "to remember all of the Bobcats that have been taken from us too soon."
"We hope the members of the school will cherish this gift as much as we will cherish our years as Bel Air Bobcats," Sybert said.
Justin Knoll, the class valedictorian, discussed the many accomplishments of the Class of 2016, including state championships in baseball, girls' soccer and field hockey, as well as many other accomplishments in academics, the arts, speech, debate and literature.
"You all have the opportunity to accomplish great things, and I hope you all make the most of that opportunity," Knoll said.
He said his classmates can be "the future doctors, lawyers, politicians and leaders of this country."
"We've already make our mark on the history of this school, and now it's time that we make our mark on the history of the world," Knoll said.
Bel Air Principal Gregory Komondor lauded the 396 members of the graduating class. The boys wore dark blue caps and gowns, and the girls wore white.
"Members of the Class of 2016, you made it, congratulations!" he exclaimed.
Joe Voskuhl, vice president of the Harford County Board of Education and a former Bel Air principal, imparted words of wisdom, along with state Sen. Robert Cassilly, Del. Susan McComas and County Councilman Jim McMahan, who is a graduate of Bel Air.
"Please celebrate wisely, make good choices, turn off your cell phones and smartphones – you don't need pictures of everything – and please, be safe," Voskuhl said.
He also told the graduates, "remember, once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat!"
McMahan asked any graduate who is joining the military, attending a service academy or will be part of an ROTC unit at college, to stand and be recognized. At least 11 boys and girls stood, and they were greeted with hearty applause.
McMahan then asked members of the audience who are veterans to stand. People throughout the arena stands rose to their feet to even greater applause.
He reminded the graduates that those veterans, when they joined the service, "signed a blank check," payable for an amount "up to and including their lives to make sure this nation is free; you will do the same!"
Before the diplomas were distributed, Komondor expressed his thanks to the teachers, administrators, secretaries, custodians and school nurses who support Bel Air students.
He told the graduates that, "as a result of your efforts and hard work, you are leaving Bel Air High School a better place than when you arrived four years ago."
Justin Moore, 17, of Abingdon, gathered with his friends outside the arena after the commencement. He plans to attend HCC, then transfer to Northeastern University in Boston, where he will be an ROTC member and study engineering.
He only spent his senior year at Bel Air, after transferring from Edgewood High School.
"I loved every teacher, I loved everything about Bel Air," Moore said. "The pride is very valuable to me, and I wish everybody could feel the same way."
Maria Kornias, 18, of Bel Air, plans to study math at HCC and wants to become a teacher.
She said the teachers were her favorite aspect of Bel Air High School, and they helped inspire her desired career path.
"Definitely, the teachers at Bel Air; they were very helpful and friendly," Kornias said. "The way they taught me, it definitely influenced my decision."