Bel Air valedictorian says school has 'a sense of community like no other'

The 376 members of Bel Air High School's Class of 2014 came together for one last time Monday evening before scattering toward their individual futures.

Kaliopi Skevofilax, 18, of Bel Air, lined up with her classmates outside the school gym as they proceeded to enter for the school's 199th commencement.

"It's a really exciting feeling, and high school flew by, and I'm just excited to move on to the next step of life," she said.

Kaliopi said she plans to study occupational therapy at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania.

A small group of the graduates' friends and relatives also gathered at the gym entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of their graduate as they walked by, the boys in dark blue caps and gowns and the girls in white.

Louis Sakell, of Forest Hill, looked for his stepson, Cole Michael, to get a smart phone photo of him.

"I'm happy that high school's over," Sakell said. "It was a long process, but now it's come and gone, and the next book opens up."

In his opening remarks, Bel Air Principal Gregory Komondor thanked the students for making the 2013-14 school year "an enjoyable and memorable one."

The year was also marked, however, by the loss of a well-liked teacher and the boys' varsity lacrosse coach, John "Scoop" Kelly.

Kelly died in February; he was 40 years old.

"We miss you Scoop, and we thank you for all you did for the members of the Class of 2014," Komondor said.

Student speakers

Four students, including two selected by their classmates, shared their thoughts on their class and their high school careers.

Taylor Shewbridge talked about living with disabilities, and the bullying she experienced at her prior schools.

She said she expected the same experience when she arrived at Bel Air High School, but instead found herself in a warm and supportive community.

"I was accepted by most everyone I met, differences and all," she said.

Taylor said she is finishing high school with "big dreams," and supportive friends and family.

"I can do anything; we can do anything," she cheered. "Go Bobcats!"

Benjamin Barsam, who has been the representative of all 38,000 Harford County Public Schools students on the Harford County Board of Education during this school year, spoke to his fellow Bobcats Monday.

He noted the Class of 2014 would be united on only two days. The first was Aug. 30, 2010, the first day of their freshman year, and Monday, graduation day.

"We were the Bel Air High School Class of 2014 bravely facing the first day of high school together," he said.

In between those days, the class had been divided among its various classes and cliques.

"Right now, we are one, we are united, and that is worth celebrating," Benjamin said.

Jason Dinh gave the valedictory address.

He took a moment before launching into his speech to take a "selfie" with his smartphone from the stage, with his classmates in the background.

Jason spoke about the special nature of the Bel Air High School community and its "sense of kinship."

"We developed a sense of community like no other, a sense of community that can be replicated by no other student body," he said.

Jason said that sense of community was on display when Mr. Kelly died in February, when the school was left in "emotional disarray."

"I watched our amazing, supportive, hopeful community in action," he said.

Jason also challenged his classmates to "create your own little Bobcat communities and give back as much as you take."

"Let's spread that Bobcat community around the world, and let's make a change," he said.

Senior class President Tori Gryglewski announced that the Class of 2014's senior class gift would be a contribution to the fund established by the Class of 2011 to replace the school's marquee.

"It is our hope that the new marquee will be in place for the upcoming school year," she said.

Tori reminder her classmates that, no matter where they go, they will always be Bel Air Bobcats.

"We are all Bobcats," she said. "We are all one family, and as we get older that will never change."

Adult words of wisdom

The graduates heard words of wisdom and inspiration from local elected and appointed officials, including school board member Alysson Krchnavy, state Sen. J.B. Jennings, state Del. Wayne Norman, County Attorney Robert McCord and County Councilman Jim McMahan.

"I can honestly tell you, the only thing standing between you and your dreams is you," Jennings told the graduates.

Parents, graduates react

Benjamin hugged his father, Chris, after the commencement in the midst of his fellow graduates and their families.

"I could not be more proud of my son, and I can't believe that this day has come so quickly," Chris Barsam said.

Teray Dias, 19, of Bel Air, celebrated with his father, Gerald, and mother, Andrea, as the graduates streamed outside into the dusk.

"It was a good school, very fun school, fun people," he said of Bel Air.

Dias said he plans to be a student in the automotive program at the Community College of Baltimore County.

Gerald Dias said his son's graduation, for him, was "good, exciting, he made it."

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