About 300 Harford Community College students of all ages donned blue robes Thursday evening, ready to graduate and begin the next chapter in their lives.
Inside the campus library, members of the HCC Class of 2012 stood along the walls and crowded into the aisles between bookshelves and computer stations, some checking Facebook just moments before lining up.
Grayling Johnson, of Baltimore, stood in the rear a bookshelf, speaking to fellow graduate and Baltimore resident Ben Rosenquist.
Johnson, 48, returned home in November after a tour of duty in Iraq and found out that he had enough credits to graduate after two and a half years of attendance.
"Thank God for HCC," Johnson joked, "for taking my transfer credits."
Johnson received his degree in information systems security, or cyber security, a career he's already a part of in the Army.
Beyond getting that piece of paper that shows his hard work and diligence, Johnson said he's setting a good example for his children.
"My kids can see if dad can do it, they can do it," he said. "It's a journey. You just got to get to the finish line."
Rosenquist, 55, was graduating with high honors, Phi Theta Kappa, but it was an interesting road that got him to his AA degree.
When asked why he decided to get his associate's degree, Rosenquist said:
"I got laid off." Fortunately, he continued, "the opportunity presented itself by the state" to attend college.
Rosenquist has been an engineer by trade for years and, as he described it, getting his diploma was just "wrapping up the degree part of my career."
He was also excited after watching his stepchildren earn degrees and decided finally it was "my turn."
Havre de Grace resident Courtney Borowski was also graduating in a field that she has worked in for many years — business administration
Borowski, 33, works at the Aberdeen Proving Ground test center and has been on the same career path for 14 years.
It took her four years to complete her studies at HCC because she works full-time and is raising two kids, she added.
Her husband, she added, is working on his master's degree.
"That's actually why I did it," Borowski said. "To have that image [for] them."
As the students gathered outside and proceeded into the large white tent where the commencement ceremony was held, friends and family members furiously snapped photographs before their loved ones took their seats for the ceremony.
A few shouted, "Congrats!" Others made their student pose for a quick photo.
HCC President Dennis Golladay welcomed everyone on the very joyous and warm night.
He paid tribute to the late Ann Ramsay, an HCC graduate, former Board of Trustees member and Harford Community College Foundation chair, who died in February from injuries in a car accident. Mrs. Ramsey's memorial service was held at the college just last Saturday.
Golladay asked for a moment of silence for the "tireless supporter and promoter of the college."
Board of Trustees Chairman Bryan Kelly called the evening "a day of celebration" for so many.
He commented that there were students in the audience who would go on to do great things.
"The person beside you might find the true cure to cancer," Kelly said. What is important, he added is to just have that "courage to follow your fairy tale wherever it may lead you."
The focus on Golladay's commencement address was a lesson that everyone — not just graduating students — could take a lesson from.
He asked the crowd to keep an open mind and be independent thinkers.
Golladay mentioned the men who created this country and its government and said our forefathers "left us an inspiring example and legacy" to be open to all views.
If there is one idea the college president said he wanted the students to leave with that night it is to have their minds "ready for new experiences and new ideas."