UNION BRIDGE — Jess Hanwell is one of the 236 seniors who graduated from Francis Scott Key High School on Saturday evening — and so is her sister, Liz Hanwell.
"She's always been there, so it's been great having an unconditional best friend by your side," Liz said of her twin sister, Jess.
"I notice that my weaknesses are her strengths, and vice versa, we kind of balance each other out like that," Jess said in return. "That's worked out well over the four years going through classes and sports and everything."
It's a complementary relationship that just seems to work: Liz is the social butterfly while Jess is more "subtle" and serious.
"I think that's what I am known for, being a little more serious, I guess, more serious than her," Jess said. "People know: Jess knows when everything is due."
Jess works at Pizza Hut, and Liz works as a server at Antrim 1844 Country House Hotel in Taneytown.
"That's our personalities right there — that's how polar opposite we are," Liz said, "Pizza Hut and the Antrim."
Differences of degrees of extroversion in their personalities aside, the Hanwell sisters share an intense drive to learn, succeed and follow their dreams. They learned what they've studied, but never had to learn to study, according to Liz.
"I want to pursue my dreams in life and I know every step I take in high school and every paper I turn in, even though it might not have a big impact, the work ethic I am building up will really help me in college," she said. "Having a good work ethic and getting up every day and going to school, going to work — it makes me feel good about myself."
"I remember freshman year on the first day of school," Jess chimes in. "They brought all of the freshman into the auditorium and [Principal John] Baugher said we had 720 days to make it count. That kind of struck me as, 'OK, it's all starts now.'"
Whatever the courses she has taken in the past four years, Jess has carried that message with her — from discovering a passion for chemistry at FSK, to diving into engineering at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center.
"Some people think of the Tech Center as an easy pass, an easy day, but for me when I went to the engineering program, it was just hard work all the time," she said. "A lot of us would work through lunch; it was that kind of work ethic there, where we didn't want to stop."
Jess certainly made an impression on her engineering instructor, Jennifer Sanders.
"She always excelled at everything she did. If she got stuck on something, she was one to sit there until it was fixed," Sanders said. "She was a very determined student, definitely worked well with others, everyone wanted to be her partner — she was an awesome student."
It was Jess that Sanders invited with her to talk to advanced seventh-grade girls about math and engineering, an experience that left a mark on Jess, convincing her that engineering was the path for her.
"I was so happy to be able to work with them, talk with them," Jess said, "To tell them everything I have done and show them that it is possible for a girl to go into engineering and be good at it."
Liz, meanwhile, took a course in spatial technologies and remote sensing, culminating in a certification in geographic information systems and an internship with Carroll County government.
"I am, like, that map person," she said.
After working through eight volumes of assignments from a homeland security curriculum, Liz said she worked with a partner and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on a capstone project that making maps of land eligible for a special conservation program through the department.
"It took us six months to do, and we were recognized by the Maryland Department of Natural resources and we were given plaques," Liz said. "They are using all of our data to continue the program, which is an amazing feeling."
Not that the two sisters haven't had some fun and relaxing times. For Jess, one of her favorite memories of her time at FSK is decorating the hallways for homecoming week.
For Liz, it was four years of playing in the orchestra that stand out as her favorite time of day, and of high school.
"It's themost kind group of people you will ever get to have a class with," she said. "Mr. Duffy is absolutely amazing; he's been not just a great teacher but a great friend and someone I can trust if I need anything."
Bill Duffy, the instrumental music instructor who so impressed Liz, was also impressed by her.
"She is always enthusiastic about being there and her enthusiasm definitely rubs off on the rest of the group — she keeps everything lighthearted and keeps everybody having fun while being productive," Duffy said. "Whatever she chooses to do, she is going to do 110 percent."
The funny thing, Jess said, is that for all their differences and similarities, she and her sister really didn't hang out much in their first three years of high school.
"The previous years we haven't been that close; I always just knew she was there. But this year, we are actually really, really good..." — Jess paused to look at Liz — "friends," they said in unison.
"It's going to be hard going to college without her," Liz added.
Liz will be attending West Virginia University to double major in environmental geoscience and geography.
"I've kind of had it planned out all throughout high school what I wanted to do, so now everything is kind of coming to life for me," she said. "I'm just really excited."
Jess, meanwhile, is headed to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to major in chemical engineering.
"I went to the Tech Center for engineering and I loved it, and I was good at chemistry here and I loved it," she said. "I thought I would combine them and do chemical engineering."
It's going to be tough, Liz said, splitting their separate ways for college, but at the least they will have one intense vacation together this summer.
"We're going to Hawaii for a week," she said. "That's one of our graduation presents."
As they prepared to depart high school and embark on college careers — and tropical vacations — the Hanwell twins offered some advice for rising seniors on their last year at FSK.
"I have had points this year where it was really, really hard, where I felt, 'I just can't do it.' But you can," Jess said. "Just keep going."
"It is your last year, make it fun. Try not to stress and enjoy it and take every day as it is," Liz added. "But apply for college early.
Francis Scott Key graduation statistics
•How many graduating: 236
•How many going to four-year college: 72 percent
•How many going to a trade school: 10 percent
•How many going into the military: 2 percent
•How much in scholarships awarded: $2,919,755
•Valedictorians: Nathaniel Fritz, Anna Matteson, Emma Padrick and Bailey Sartori