Springdale Preparatory School in New Windsor celebrated its very first graduating class at a ceremony Friday afternoon.

The three graduates were joined by friends and family as well as their classmates for an intimately sized ceremony on the school’s campus. Vincent Douglas, Orlando Merrick and Tanner Wolfe made up the Class of 2019.

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Commencement speaker Chuck Miller, who served as chief master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, asked them to consider the traits of their school’s mascot, the lion, as they went forward into a future when they would have to work with diverse people and know when to make their voices heard.

“You can hear a lion roar five miles away,” he told the audience. “And the point I'm making is that sometimes in life, you're gonna have to speak up. But there's a time to speak up. And one of the things that the lion’s roar has taught me is that even though you have the right to speak, you must earn the right to be heard.”

The graduates were also presented with an uncut key, which Miller gifted to them as a symbol of the process that lays ahead for them.

“The diploma is an uncut key. It’s not going to be thrown at the bottom of your feet and then you’re finished … it doesn’t fit anywhere right now. Because hold on, it has to go through the process of being cut.”

Douglas will be attending Coastal Alabama Community College after graduation. His teachers at Springdale are what he will miss the most about the school, he said.

To those just starting high school, he advised them to stay focused through the first year or two, even though it can be a tough transition.

Merrick advised students joining a new school to surround themselves with good people. Next year, he will also be attending college to pursue athletic and academic goals.

The basketball program, where he and Douglas were teammates, is one of the things he will miss most.

Wolfe is planning to study politics after graduation, first pursuing community college and planning to then transfer to complete a bachelor’s.

He will miss the friends he made during his two years at Springdale and advised new students to “Just be yourself, and don’t be fake,” when forming relationships with new people.

Tyrone Johnson, the dean of students who also coached Douglas and Merrick in basketball, said it was rewarding to see them matriculate.

“I’m excited for their futures,” he said of all the graduates.

Because the graduating class was so small, the school wanted the ceremony to be more “low key and intimate” and customized for these specific graduates, he said. Something too grand would be almost fictitious.

Holding the celebration during the day had the benefit of allowing the younger students at the school to attend and see the example of their older peers.

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With a small student body, it’s all about personal connections, Johnson said.

Springdale Preparatory School is a private, co-educational, day and boarding school that opened in August 2017.

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