Patterson Mill High School's Class of 2013, the first group of students to have attended the school from seventh through 12th grade, bid farewell Thursday to their alma mater and the school's first and only principal, Wayne Thibeault.
Known to students as "Mr. T," Thibeault marked the end of a 41-year career in education, as school board member James Thornton reminded the audience.
Co-valedictorians and co-speakers Stephanie McCartney and Glory Mjboji asked the audience to give Thibeault a round of applause.
Filling up most of the 2,500 seats in the APG Federal Credit Union, the crowd rose to its feet for the standing ovation.
"We've yet to see Mr. T without a smile," Mjboji said. "He raised this school from its birth and none of us can deny that his ever-jovial persona will leave a mark on us forever."
McCartney pointed out that Thibeault just became a grandfather and is "more than just a teacher."
The star of the night, meanwhile, was "keynote speaker" Panashe Mutombo, a Renaissance man who Thibeault said has led everything from the debate team to the student council, and also served as this year's student representative on the county board of education.
Mutombo confidently strode up to the stage and delivered a passionate, mesmerizing speech about the trendy expression "YOLO" (you only live once), which he called "the uneducated replacement for carpe diem."
While often used to justify dangerous risk-taking, the phrase can instead be seen as a call to live more fully, he said.
"It's simple: you step out of your door and you live every single moment to the fullest," he said, recalling a straight-A friend of his who finished the University of Maryland but struggled to make ends meet because he could not find a job in his chosen profession of law.
"I asked him, 'David, go back and change majors, do something else. You're so intelligent, you're so passionate,'" Mutombo continued.
His friend, however, replied that "life isn't given to you… I stay in this for that one sliver of a chance to start my career and finally be what I always wanted to be. I came to America to settle, I came to America to move forward, I came to America to achieve. I didn't come to America to watch others get that one thing that I should be able to get."
Mutombo said dreams become a reality by the sweat of one's brow.
"Live each and every day like every day that promotion is coming, that A grade is coming,… that tomorrow is going to be the day," he said. "Don't live breathlessly but live beautifully."
The other 218 members of the graduating class seemed ready to move forward and see what life has to offer.
Gathered in a room at the far end of Susquehanna Hall, the soon-to-be graduates had mixed emotions about the end of their high school careers.
"I think it's 1,000 emotions," Jessie Uline said, looking a little nervous and reflective while standing with some friends.
"It went by so fast," she said of her time at Patterson Mill.
Others said the school, which has only graduated three prior senior classes, felt like a family.
"Everybody got so close and now it's like it's over," Courtney Burrows said. She is planning to go to cosmetology school.
Thibeault reminded students their school was ranked one of the top 1,500 in the country by Newsweek magazine.
He also recognized an exchange student, Gabriella Bugge-Amundsen from Oslo, Norway.
Thornton, meanwhile, asked the graduates to think about what they would tell classmates at their 10-year reunion.
"Here's what I would hope you would say, and I hope your parents would hope: that you're gainfully employed, that you're somewhere making a difference in your community, that you're actively involved in the political process by voting - something that you shouldn't take for granted - that you are in some way giving back to the less fortunate, that you are reaching…to some young person, either tutoring that person or mentoring that person, that you take your time with the elderly, that you understand that the price of freedom comes at a cost and you gain great respect for those who serve in our military," Thornton said.
"We all have a role in preserving this country that we all call home," he added.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun