The 23 members of Harford Christian School's "small but mighty" Class of 2013 were honored Friday during the school's 43rd commencement ceremony.
Six of the graduates have been together at the Darlington school, a ministry of the Reformation Bible Church of Darlington, since kindergarten. The school serves students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
"These 13 years have been filled with many challenges as well as many blessings," said one of the six, Leah Edwards, who delivered welcoming remarks. "We are so thankful to God, our teachers, friends and family, for without all of you this achievement would not have been possible."
The commencement ceremony included many mentions of God and Jesus Christ, and readings of Scripture.
Graduate John Wilson read from the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 3:"Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding, for the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold," Wilson read. "She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her."
While the Class of 2013 is smaller than recent graduating classes at Harford Christian, Principal Bryan Wilson extolled the class' academic achievements, and the "fierce academic competition" among its members.
He joked the race for top academic honors, which he characterized as "a friendly pit bull fight," could have started as early as preschool.
"Regardless of when it started, it has continued and it has been a heated race for salutatorian and valedictorian from as far back as we can remember," Wilson said.
He said the grade point averages of the seven top achievers were separated by one tenth of a point, and the Class of 2013 had one valedictorian, followed by two salutatorians with the same GPA.
"Although we may be a small class... we are mighty, and have definitely shown that this year," co-salutatorian Elizabeth Cirri said.
Cirri talked about fun times with her classmates, achievements in the classroom and on the athletic field, and more.
Cirri gave special thanks to her parents and her classmates, but gave greater credit to an even higher authority.
She described God as "the person to whom all credit is due, for every blessing and for the strength that has gotten me through each and every day."
Co-salutatorian Anne Cornwell also gave thanks to God and Jesus Christ in her speech.
She urged her fellow graduates to use the Scriptures they have been taught as a guide in their lives, and to avoid the "passing pleasures" found in the world.
"My hope and prayer is that you all have a wonderful adventure, and stay on the path with Christ as your guide and always shine brightly for Him," she said.
Valedictorian Nathan Pittack also thanked his parents.
"Both of you have encouraged me, supported me and taught me to pursue excellence, not for myself, but for the glory of God," he said.
Pittack spoke at length about trying to define oneself, and trying to get the pieces of one's personal puzzle to fit and form a complete picture.
He noted the "central puzzle piece, salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ."
"No matter where God leads you, no matter what puzzle you were meant to finish, may we all strive to make the ones we complete display an image of living for Christ," he said.
Graduate Emma Reed, who presented the class gift, noted her classmates not only raised enough money for a class bus trip to The Wilds camp in North Carolina, but to purchase a garden bench for the campus and provide matching funds to purchase iPads for the classrooms.
Eric Feustel, chairman of the Harford Christian Educational Foundation, presented a $20,000 contribution to the school's general fund.
"May the Lord continue to bless this ministry and all those who are involved in it," Feustel said of the school.
Kent Ramler, senior pastor of the People's Baptist Church in Frederick, was the commencement speaker.
He said that, even though the graduates had acquired extensive knowledge, they should pursue something even greater.
"I'm challenging you tonight to pursue wisdom," he said.
Ramler stressed wisdom comes from "reverence" for and "fear" of God.
"Each one of you, the way God has designed you, can be rich in wisdom," he explained. "Each one of you, God is giving you all you need in his Word to discern how to take the knowledge that you have gleaned and make the best choices in life. By God's grace, don't just be a smart person, be a wise person."
Wilson also honored long-serving German teacher Peggy Nickson, who is retiring after 40 years in teaching, 15 of them at Harford Christian.
"Peggy all of us, but especially your students, and our native German-speaking community, salute you for an outstanding teaching career and we wish you a prosperous retirement," the principal said.
Wilson extolled the Class of 2013's achievements, noting 19 of the graduates were involved in athletics; 14 in fine arts programs; half of the class had been inducted into the Harford Christian Honor Society, and they had completed more than 3,400 hours of community service during their high school years.
"Yes, Class of 2013, you were small, but you were mighty, and we will miss you terribly," he said.