When Reservoir High School students walked across the stage Tuesday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, they experienced the once-in-a-lifetime feel of graduating high school.
But for one student, the experience was slightly different.
For Sean McGing, 21, it was his second graduation ceremony in five days.
McGing was one of three graduates from the Cedar Lane School May 23. He was joined in the Class of 2014 by Alex Auerbach and Samuel Beyer.
The Cedar Lane School serves students, ages 3 through 21, with special needs such as McGing, who is autistic.
McGing’s participation in Reservoir High School’s graduation represents what is believed to be a first in Howard County — a Cedar Lane student participating in a traditional high school commencement ceremony.
"He's easy-going, laid-back, but then he's quick to get silly," said Paul Owens, principal at Cedar Lane. "That just makes him a lot fun to be around, and I think that's why the teenagers over at Reservoir love him so much."
Over the past seven years at Reservoir, McGing has participated in the school choir, Best Buddies Club and traditional high school classes, such as Spanish, biology and art, sometimes spending about half of his school day at Reservoir.
"This shows how you can have a hybrid program that brings the best of both worlds together," said John McGing, Sean's father.
Sean's mom, Marie, credits much of her son's success at Reservoir to music teacher, Greg Knauf.
"He just took Sean in and took him under his wing. He's made us feel as much a part of the school as he could," she said.
A "huge" country music fan of artists such as Taylor Swift, Alan Jackson and Darius Rucker, the McGings thought music therapy was great for their son in elementary and middle school, which then led to the interest in Reservoir's school chorus.
At Reservoir, Sean participated in all rehearsals and three shows each year.
He was introduced to Knauf by former Cedar Lane teacher Wendy Cohen-Holbrook, who pitched the idea of having McGing participate in the music program at Reservoir.
Although Knauf had never had a special needs student in the choral program, he took him in. Knauf says it will be hard to go into the choir room next year and not see Sean.
"He was the model choral student," Knauf said. "He listened, always participated and had a willingness to be a part of everything."
The McGings stressed that the partnership between the two schools was instrumental in making the opportunity a reality.
"They [Reservoir staff] have gone above and beyond to make it work," Marie McGing said.
Owens said there are three other Cedar Lane students who may follow in McGing's footsteps if appropriate courses for them are found at Reservoir.
"By Sean graduating and setting a precedent, it's really going to make vast members of both schools feel good about it and, I think, open the doors for a lot more students going back and forth," Owens said.
Having McGing participate in Reservoir's graduation ceremony has been a goal of his parents since McGing began attending Cedar Lane and participating in Reservoir activities.
"It almost didn't make sense not to do this," John McGing said.
Reservoir Principal Pat Saunderson and Owens have been "nothing but supportive" of the idea, he added.
Before attending Cedar Lane, McGing was a student at Swansfield Elementary and Harper's Choice Middle schools.
While his home school would have been Wilde Lake, from which his older sister graduated, the McGings thought Reservoir was appropriate since he could attend courses at both schools on any given day.
Through his time at Reservoir, Sean's teachers say they have seen his growth.
Over the years, McGing has "blossomed" as a person, starting as the boy whose parents thought he would never talk in class, said Selina Gray, a special education teacher at Cedar Lane.
"I can't handle the thought of not seeing him, not working with him," she said.
Gray, who worked with McGing during his first four years at Cedar Lane, said he "jokes around a lot," adding that he doesn't get into mischief, but enjoys watching his classmates do so.
"He has this simple, simple joy in life, and in people that is infectious," she said. "His smile lights up the halls."
Now that he has graduated and received his Maryland Certificate of Completion, McGing will enter a program with the Arc of Howard County that will assist him in landing a job in the community.
McGing has already had one emotional graduation moment, which came during the Cedar Lane School graduation.
At the end of the ceremony, each graduate handed flowers to their parents.
Last to go, McGing walked up to his mother in the silent multi-purpose room and said loudly, "Thank you, Momma," which elicited a chorus of "aww" and tears.
The McGings were prepared for another emotional moment as they looked forward to Reservoir's commencement.
"He's just going to be one of the kids, and he's never been one of those kids," Marie McGing said. "He's always been a special needs kid. For him to be just another kid, that's what you want for him."