The John Archer School's commencement ceremony is considered very special for Harford County leaders because of the progress made by the school's special needs students, some who have been together since age 3.
"This is one of the best celebrations in the county, it really is," Francis "Rick" Grambo, president of the Harford County Board of Education, said during the ceremony.
Nine John Archer graduates were honored Friday, the school's 41st annual commencement.
Grambo said graduation speakers should typically say something inspirational, but "I have to be honest; all of the inspiration here is coming from the other side of the podium," he said not only about the graduates, but also the teachers and staff who worked with them.
The school is operated by Harford County Public Schools and serves about 100 students with a variety of special needs between the ages of 3 and 21. Its Thomas Run Road facility, across from Harford Community College's campus, has been in operation since the early 1970s.
Teachers and staff work closely with students and their families to provide for each student's needs. Services include therapies for the various physical, emotional and mental special needs, instruction in independent living, opportunities to perform music, learn vocational skills and many more services.
The students wowed the audience with renditions of Teresa Jennings' "It's Our Time" and R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" by the John Archer Chorus.
Graduate Janel Maye accompanied the chorus on drums for "It's Our Time."
"All have progressed toward their goals and we believe they are ready to fly," Principal Patricia Walling said.
State Sen. Barry Glassman, who represents Harford County in Annapolis, said high school seniors around the county have often told him, "senior year is easy; I've done a lot of coasting."
"I know for these young people that there's no coasting, that sometimes every day is an uphill climb, and I think that's the important thing to remember today, that you're still climbing and that you have stuck to it," Glassman said.
Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie, whose grandson, Evan, is a recent graduate of John Archer, attended his 11th commencement Friday.
"What the teachers have done for not only my grandson, but these children is amazing," Guthrie said.
Assistant Principal Mary Gernand spoke briefly about each of the nine graduates.
Clay "C.J." Cassell Jr.: "Throughout his schooling, his teachers have found him to be a delight."
Evan Flaherty: "Evan has developed a tremendous work ethic; he loves to stay busy and works very hard."
Keith Halloran: "He's grown to become a very loving and funny young man; he's always happy."
Tanner Lowman: "Tanner has grown and matured into a polite young man who is eager to please and is always smiling."
Janel Maye: "She's developed self confidence and has become quite an independent worker."
Glenn McVey: "Glenn loves to socialize; he smiles and knocks on his tray for people whom he wants to engage in conversation."
Leah Stoval: "The one thing Leah loves most of all is hugs; trying to give a high five is never sufficient."
Abigail Williams: "She has matured into a sociable and very well-mannered young lady."
Morgan Woods: "Morgan is a very kind and compassionate young lady; she's friendly to all the students and staff, she puts a smile on everyone's face."
"To our graduates, as you leave John Archer today I know you will take with you fond memories of the years that you had here, friendships that you have made and the skills needed to take the next step in your young lives," said Kim Holcomb, president of the school's Parent-Teacher Association.
Holcomb discussed the many activities of students, parents and school teachers and staff during the year, including fundraising efforts supported by Harford County community groups and businesses.
She also mentioned a visit earlier this year by several school board members to John Archer, as school officials work to develop a more modern facility to replace John Archer's current 41-year-old building.
Grambo said later the board had reviewed a proposal by Harford County Public Schools' facilities staffers and members had sought alternate plans.
He said the board wants to make sure "it's right before moving forward."