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Aberdeen High teacher urges graduates to find their 'master status' to make the world a better place

Aberdeen High teacher urges graduates to find their 'master status' to make the world a better place
Adeyemi Ekundayo shows off his diploma as he crosses the stage during Tuesday's Aberdeen graduation ceremony at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

With Aberdeen Proving Ground almost a stone's throw from its campus, Aberdeen High School's student population is made up of teenagers from around the country and the world. Several members of the Class of 2015 – and their parents – noted the school is a place that brings them all together in a nurturing environment.

Chrissandra Jackson, the senior class president, said in her speech during Tuesday's graduation ceremony that, as a child in a military family, she has lived in multiple states, including Alaska, and she has fond memories of each location. She said Aberdeen is where she learned skills such as playing lacrosse and, most importantly, where she got her driver's license.

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"Graduation's pretty cool, but driving takes the cake," Jackson said.

Jackson is one of 326 members of the Aberdeen High Class of 2015, who were celebrated during the school's 107th annual commencement in the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College.

She used the parts of a car, including the engine, windshield and wheels, as metaphors for the strengths her fellow graduates need as they go through life.

"I hope your engine is strong, I hope your windshield is clear, and I hope your wheels keep moving in whatever direction you choose to take," Jackson said.

Principal Michael O'Brien told the graduates that "I'm really proud of you guys," and he listed their multiple accomplishments in athletics, the arts and extracurricular activities, as well as the more than $8 million in scholarships they earned.

O'Brien also noted that the Class of 2015 has "the highest percentage of students moving on to post-secondary education in school history."

The graduates were treated to speeches from two of their classmates, Peter Sheu and Sehlah Butt, and social studies teacher Bradley Freda.

Sheu told his classmates to "remember to love yourselves." He became emotional when he talked about saying his goodbyes to his fellow graduates.

"I was never good at these, because they always make me cry, especially when it's a goodbye to someone I cared about so instead of saying, 'Goodbye,' I'll say. 'Thank you.'

Butt, who is Muslim and wears the hijab head scarf that many Muslim women wear as a symbol of modesty, talked about her commitment to her faith and her appreciation of the diversity of the AHS student body, which includes students from all over the world.

She said she is often asked questions about her hijab, including whether or not she is forced to wear it.

"I chose to veil," she said, "No one forced me to."

Her statement elicited cheers from her classmates and people in the audience.

"I refer to my hijab, because it is that one thing, that one thing everyone notices about me, and usually the reaction from people ranges from respectful to uncomfortable to even fearful," Butt continued. "In high school, my hijab is the official stamp, verifying that I was different, but in reality, aren't we all different, don't we all have a dimension that makes us unique?"

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Freda talked about the sociological concept of "master status," which describes "the status of greatest importance in a particular person's life."

He said a master status can include a person's gender, background, career, ability or family, and that it "shapes a person's life and can change over time as the person changes."

"How will you define your master status?" Freda asked the graduates. "As you go forward into this world, I challenge each of you to discover your master status, embrace it and make the world a better place because of it."

The graduates also received words of wisdom from Harford County elected officials, including Tom Fitzpatrick, a school board member, state Sen. Bob Cassilly, Del. Glen Glass, County Council President Richard Slutzky and County Executive Barry Glassman.

Slutzky, a former Aberdeen High teacher and coach, said he was attending his 43rd AHS commencement.

He stressed to the Class of 2015 that "success isn't final, and failure isn't fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts."

Family and friends in the arena stands cheered – some at the tops of their lungs – as each graduate's name was called to receive his or her diploma.

John and Katie McGill, who live on APG, cheered as their 18-year-old daughter Caitlyn's name was called, and John McGill snapped photos as Caitlyn crossed the stage.

"I'm proud," he said. "I'm a proud papa."

McGill, who is retired from the Army, said his daughter transferred to AHS from Havre de Grace High School for her senior year.

Katie McGill said her daughter has benefited from attending Harford County Public Schools, and she noted their family has moved around the country.

"It's just amazing," she said. "We're a military family, and we were just really lucky to land here for her last four years of school."

Katie McGill gripped a tissue as she talked about Caitlyn's graduation.

"I'm over here tearing up, because I know it's the beginning of her moving on, but I'm very proud."

Graduate April Burleigh, 18, of Aberdeen, also comes from a military family. Her father is a retired Army first sergeant, and her mother works at the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Perryville.

"It's been an amazing four years at Aberdeen, but I'm ready to start a new chapter in my life, but I'll never forget this school," she said as she met with her grandparents and mother after the ceremony.

Frankie and Hector Cresente, who live in New Jersey and have ties to Aberdeen through the Always House of Prayer, were glad that April attended high school in a location close to their home, considering her family has moved all over the country.

"It's not always easy to get to Texas, but I can get down here to see her graduate," Frankie Cresente said of her granddaughter.

April will attend Delaware State University in the fall, where she plans to study nursing. She has also recently been sworn into the Delaware Air Force National Guard.

Her grandmother on her father's side of the family, Marie DeVolle, flew in from Los Angeles for the commencement, which she has done for all of her grandchildren's high school graduations.

"Every [graduation] is better," she said. "It gets better every year."

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