Having chosen a different path by enrolling in Harford Technical High School, the graduating Class of 2013 was ready Friday to make its way into the adult world.
"Everyone comes into this world as equals, each with an inner voice to guide us through life. What separates us are those who choose to listen and those who choose not," Harford County Council President Billy Boniface told the soon-to-be graduates.
Perhaps more than many others in Harford County, the confident seniors in black caps-and-gowns at the Amoss Center knew how to march to the beat of their own drummer.
Chatting in the cafeteria before the ceremony, John Enriquez and Graham Mitchell had thoughtful views about their graduation day.
"It's pretty much exciting, but it's also scary knowing you are going to be leaving the comforts of the Harford County school system," Enriquez said. "It's not really the end of school but the beginning of our real lives."
He is heading to Lincoln College of Technology, in Columbia, to pursue diagnostics and said he will definitely remember "all the friends I made and the teachers that helped create who I am."
Graham Mitchell said he was "a little particular" about graduation.
"I respect graduation for the academia part of it," he explained. "It's just the beginning. We are stepping forward to begin our lives."
Mitchell is going to Harford Community College ("I call it UCLA - upper Churchville, lower Aberdeen") to study chemistry and then plans to transfer to the University of Baltimore for forensic science, in hopes of becoming a forensics analyst.
Despite his comment about academia, Mitchell said both he and Enriquez will definitely remember their time spent playing music at Harford Tech.
"I really want to thank all our teachers, especially our music teacher [Joseph Fetters]," Mitchell said. "He really changed our lives a lot."
When asked what they will remember about Harford Tech, Marisa Giro and Eryn Campbell said almost in unison: "Cheerleading."
They were both cheerleading captains and both looking forward to getting their diplomas.
"I'm excited to move on to college," Campbell said. She is headed to HCC, across the street, to train to become a Navy officer.
Giro, who plans to pursue dentistry at the University of Maryland, said she "can't wait to throw our hats up in the air and go to Senior Week."
During the ceremony, valedictorian Russell Fiol, a sports medicine student, launched his speech creatively by asking the audience to raise their arms and stretch several times.
"We all have room for growth, for improvement," he added about the stretching exercise. "Harford Tech has given us challenges and obstacles to overcome."
Fiol encouraged his classmates to push themselves harder, quoting football coach Vince Lombardi by saying, "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get back up."
Whatever students may want to do, "it may seem insignificant to others but to you, it means something, and that meaning is worthwhile," he said.
He thanked teachers, staff and parents for helping students do their best.
"I am honored to be a Cobra from Harford Tech," he said.
Several state elected officials regaled the audience with stories from their world of politics and growing up.
Del. Wayne Norman, whose child attended Harford Tech, said the school is the best of the best.
"[In Annapolis,] 2013 was the worst year we ever had for people from Harford County. We argued about everything," he said. "One thing we don't argue about is the quality of education students get in Maryland."
He also mischievously informed students that "down the ocean, the sun is out and the party's on 13th Street."
Outgoing schools Superintendent Robert Tomback told a story about a marathon runner from Tanzania who limped across the finish line at the 1968 summer Olympics because he had injured himself in the race.
Calling the man an unsung hero, Tomback said the man told everyone: "My people didn't send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish the race."
He advised students: "This is the end of your high school race but it's the beginning of the rest of your life."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun