Shoshana Misch described her experience of being a new high school graduate in one word: "surreal."
Misch, 18, and one of 264 members of Fallston High School's Class of 2013, said her boyfriend, Ethan MacMillan, who had graduated from Bel Air High School on Tuesday, told her of the odd feeling of waking up in the morning as a graduate.
"I feel like I'm going to have to wake up tomorrow morning and go to school, but I'm not and it's weird, it's surreal," the Fallston resident said, her boyfriend at her side following her now-alma mater's 34th annual commencement Thursday.
Fallston High's commencement was held at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College, one of a number of graduations held there during Harford County Public Schools' graduation week.
The members of the Class of 2013 heard plenty of advice from their peers Thursday as four student speakers were featured as part of the ceremony.
Fiona Puglese recalled learning to count as a preschooler by identifying the number of M&Ms candies in her father's hand, with the chocolate treats as a reward for a correct answer.
She called it a "sweet victory."
"What is important today is that we take the time to reflect upon our sweet victories," Puglese told her classmates.
She talked about the impact the graduates' experience at Fallston has had on them, and how she was honored to be part of the Class of 2013.
"Now that is sweeter than candy," she said.
Garrett Ross used a track race metaphor to sum up the high school experience.
"We all started the same race with the same goal, to reach the finish line," he said.
He also took issue with the notion held by many people that high school is the best time of one's life, and said he "would be sad" if he spent his life looking back at high school.
He characterized graduation not as a finish line, "but rather a passing of the baton," and the graduates have a duty "to take that diploma and run as hard as we can in the direction of that goal."
Andrew Benjes used the metaphor of setting up rows of dominoes.
"The interesting thing about dominoes is, you can make them take any path you want," he said.
Benjes said the graduates started with one domino the first day of freshman year, and each set his or her own pattern they went through high school. Now that they are finished, they can look at the setup and "see how the past four years have unfolded."
"May your path of dominoes fall smoothly and uniformly as you move forward in your life," he said.
Finally, Mitchell McMichael took on the role of a reporter broadcasting a breaking story about high school seniors across the country struck with a case of the "what ifs."
"This contagion appears to be airborne as seniors converse with each other," he said.
McMichael reminded his fellow graduates that "Fallston prepared them for whatever lies ahead."
"This is Mitchell McMichael, signing off," he said. "Stay tuned as our stories develop."
The graduates also heard from five local elected and appointed officials who imparted their adult wisdom.
Board of Education member Robert Frisch, state Sen. J.B. Jennings, Del. Pat McDonough, Arden McClune, director of the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation and County Councilman Joe Woods all addressed the students.
Jennings, who also spoke at Bel Air High's graduation, told graduates they had experienced thousands of school lunches, bus rides and quizzes and tests in their years at public school students.
"You all have been given one of the greatest educations in the world," he said. "It is up to you to succeed and move forward with it."
McClune reminded the graduates "learning is a lifelong activity."
"You'll continue to grow and change all of your life," she said. "We all remain a work in progress, congratulations!"
Friends and relatives of the graduates cheered and screamed with delight as each one's name was called to receive his or her diploma.
Joe and Sandy Klima of Forest Hill cheered as they heard the name of their niece, Stephanie DiMario.
"I'm relieved that the day's finally come, and she's on to a bright future," Sandy Klima said.
Tim Ollivett was equally proud of his son, Christopher, and noted his daughter recently graduated from college.
"It's kind of exciting and sad at the same time, because they're growing up and they're going on with their own lives," he said.
A.J. Alexander of Fallston shook his son Wyatt's hand as he exited the arena and told him, "you're a man now."
Wyatt, 17, who will be attending James Madison University in the fall, said he was "kind of nervous, but at the same time anxious to see what's next, what's to come."
Alexander said he expects his son will "go far if he applies himself."
"He has to work at it," he said. "It's not going to come easy, but he's got all the tools."
Principal Richard Jester presented the Class of 2013.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present to you, a group of young men and women ready to make an impact on the future!" he announced.