They've been there from the beginning, and now, seven years later, the "original Huskies" celebrated their final moment as students at Patterson Mill Middle and High School in Bel Air.
Although the young school marked its fifth high school commencement Monday, most members of the Class of 2014 who walked across the APG Federal Credit Union Arena stage at Harford Community College were the first group to have attended the joint middle-high school for the entire seven years of their secondary education.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience not experienced by many people across the country, let alone in Harford County," Principal Sean Abel, who joined Patterson Mill this year, told the roughly 230 soon-to-be-graduates in front of him.
Abel marked the occasion by bringing back the school's popular, original principal, Wayne Thibeault, as well as other administrators who were there at the school's beginning.
They also bought special white cowls to add to the students' teal or black caps-and-gowns, Abel said.
"This class, more than any other, have left their mark upon the school," Abel said. "I sure wish I had more than a year to get to know you."
Students including Emily Yanky and Samantha Wuerfl said their long tenure at Patterson Mill left an impression and that Thibeault helped make it dynamic.
"It was nice seeing the same people every day," Samantha said. "Our old principal had a very energetic personality."
Emily said: "He made you want to come to school." She added that Abel does as well.
"I'm glad I spent the last seven years with the same people," Emily said.
She plans to attend Frostburg University after college, while Samantha is deciding between a fashion school in New York and West Virginia University.
Taylor Kelly pointed out his homeroom teacher from sixth grade, at the head of his line of students in the room where they were gathered before the ceremony.
"It's cool. It makes it a little more special," Taylor, who is going to West Virginia University to study international business and German, said about the teachers who had returned.
Taylor called graduation "a humbling experience."
His friend, Christian Jenkins, said he did not "really feel anything in particular, but it's going to be a shock waking up tomorrow realizing I don't have to come to school anymore."
Christian plans to study engineering at Harford Community College. While he is glad for the friends he made at Patterson Mill, he also said, "There are also some people I want to get away from."
Morgan Webster, who is going to Anne Arundel Community College to become a pastry chef, said she is ready to move on and excited about graduating.
"I am ready to be done with Patterson Mill and take the next step forward in life," she said.
Malik Bonds said graduation was "bittersweet."
"It's really exciting but at the same time, I feel as though I am not ready to be in college life yet," he said, noting he plans to study sports management at Harford Community College.
"The school was great," Malik said about Patterson Mill. "The teachers were nice. It was a really good environment to be in."
Building 'true family'
In her speech before thousands of family and friends, Class of 2014 President Madison Buchness thanked Thibeault and Assistant Principal Adam Milanoski for transforming the building "into a true family."
She thanked teachers for giving students "the most memorable senior prom" and other senior events and thanked Abel for grabbing the ropes "on this crazy bobsled."
Madison noted when students first came to the school seven years ago, they found amenities like flat-screen TVs and two gyms.
"Everyone was jealous of us," she said of Patterson Mill.
She also pointed out the students have received many academic awards, including earning $6.4 million worth of scholarships and other awards.
"We are not all fun and games at Patterson Mill," she said.
With creative projects throughout the building, "in my eyes, we created the school," Madison said.
"Lucky for us, with social media and technology, there is no way of escaping Husky Nation," she said.
Achieving 'great things'
Valedictorian Casey Sumlin said students can overcome their diverse struggles and challenges in life, and confessed she was originally very afraid to give such a public speech.
"We have collectively achieved great things," she said. "We now graduate as a class with our problems behind us and nothing but our future ahead."
Salutatorian Graeme Fenton, meanwhile, gave a humorous speech that began with "accidentally" reading a grocery list and giving advice like wearing glasses to look smarter and playing volleyball, which he said many successful people do.
Harford County Councilman Jim McMahan asked students what they learned, adding he was not talking about the academic subjects.
"Did you learn how to care? Did you learn how to think? Did you learn how to make good choices? What did you learn about yourself? Do you know how to take care of yourself? Did you learn about your country?" he said.
He also asked students joining the military to stand, prompting about 10 young men to rise.
"As an old retired colonel, I want to give you your first salute," McMahan said, before opening a red box and asking the students to catch something that turned out to be intangible.
"I just tossed you the future," McMahan exclaimed. "Take good care of it."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun