Kathrin Simmons, one of 338 of the newest graduates of North Harford High School, smiled broadly as she posed for pictures with her family.
"I'm excited, but I'm also kind of nervous about starting something new and just breaking a routine that I've had for so many years," the 17-year-old Bel Air-area resident said Wednesday, following North Harford's 63rd annual commencement ceremony in the APG Federal Credit Union at Harford Community College.
Simmons is not the only one in her family to celebrate a graduation this year; her sister, Kaitlin, a 2008 graduate of North Harford, is set to receive her associate's degree in nursing from the community college in August, and her mother, Karen, received her master's of business administration from Loyola University in Baltimore in May.
"We'll have three graduations in a couple of months, so it's been a good year for education in the family," Karen Simmons said.
Simmons went for her degree at the encouragement of her daughters.
"So we've all encouraged one another to be part of the Class of 2013," she said.
North Harford's Class of 2013 sat on the basketball court of the arena, young women graduates in gold caps and gowns and young men in green.
Andrew Becker, president of the senior class, stressed during his opening remarks that, while he and his classmates were not all friends with each other, "tonight we're all classmates and we're all graduates."
"It has been an honor being your class president," he said. "I want to thank you for helping shape me into the man who stands before you tonight."
Principal William Herbold called the graduates "a vibrant community of learners."
He urged them to give back to their communities, expect "only the best" from themselves, and ultimately, "never forget your roots, that you are North Harford Hawks and you always will be."
Thomas Ogden, the class valedictorian, imparted several things he had learned during his time at "ol' North Harford High School."
The first was "that your dreams will never be anything more than dreams unless you act on them."
Ogden encouraged his classmates to put in the time to be "truly good at something," to always improve themselves and to continue learning even after high school.
"There is so much to learn about so many things and so many ways to apply that knowledge," he said.
Ethel Davis of Norrisville cheered as her grandson's name, Austin Newcomer, was called and he walked across the stage to get his diploma.
"I think it's wonderful that he's graduating," she said.
Davis, who sat with her grandson's parents, Chip and Tracy Newcomer, also of Norrisville, said Austin will study music at Harford Community College.
"He's very good on the guitar," she said.
Graduates Matt Goedeke, 17, of Forest Hill, and Elizabeth Martin, 18, of Street, stood outside the arena after the ceremony, embracing and posing for pictures.
The couple said they plan to attend Harford Community College in the fall.
"It's exciting," Goedeke said of graduating. "It's a lot of work for it."
Martin said she is "excited just to be going on to a new chapter in life."
The graduates also heard from local elected and appointed officials Wednesday.
Board of Education member Joseph Hau advised the graduates: "Learn to read a map."
He gave the advice to a generation reared on plugging their destinations into their GPS units and following automatic directions.
Hau said in life, "you may face the harsh reality there are no automatic turn-by-turn directions."
He encouraged them to not only learn to read maps, but make their own through life.
"You will want to know how to navigate around these features, so they will not stop you on your journey through life," he said.
State Sen. Barry Glassman, Del. Wayne Norman, Harford County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson and County Councilman Chad Shrodes also spoke.
Norman spoke of the difficulties during the recently-concluded 2013 legislative session in Annapolis, with passions running high on gun control, the so-called "rain tax" and many other contentious issues.
"One thing we do not disagree on in Annapolis is the value of an education," he said.
Shrodes, a North Harford graduate, talked about the close-knit community of the school's students and alumni.
"My classmates are still my best friends," Shrodes said. "This is a unique characteristic of our school."
He encouraged them to "be open to new experiences" and take risks.
"Nothing great was ever accomplished without some risks and hard work," Shrodes said.
He told the graduates time moves fast, and one day they could be in front of a group of Hawk graduates, sharing their life experiences.
"I hope that you share the pride I feel [in North Harford] each time I return," Shrodes said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun