An unusual all-male graduating class at Harford County's alternative education program gave principal Kilo Mack the chance to remind the seniors what manhood is about.
"You often hear the phrase, 'I am a grown man,'" Mack told the 14 seniors and their families and friends gathered Friday morning at Aberdeen's Center for Educational Opportunity.
People often say "I'm grown" defensively, but Mack referenced "one of my favorite books" by quoting the Bible: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things."
"You see, manhood will take you out of your comfort zone. Manhood will require action on your part," Mack said.
The graduates' smiles and playful struts as they received their diplomas showed how much the day meant to them.
The school, meanwhile, showed off the personal attention the staff paid to each student. The graduates' names, printed in gothic font, lined the poles to the entrance of the school. The cafeteria had individualized tables, each one featuring a framed photo of each graduate, a vase with flowers and a legislative citation from the Harford County Council.
Phillip Clark, chosen to make the student address, said students can rise above the perception that Alternative Education is a place for troubled or misbehaving kids.
"It's true, we have our fair share of trouble," the soft-spoken Clark said in his speech.
"Me, I just want a stable life," he said, as well as to build on the success he already accomplished.
"Now it's time for us to face the real world like the young men that we are," he said, adding they can "make a generation better than we are."
"Be good to your families, be good to your communities and be good to yourself," he concluded.
School counselor Michelle Kozak said each student had a moment sooner or later that marked a significant turning point, and "whatever that event was, it precipitated a change in you."
She awarded one of two Emily Bosley Memorial Scholarships to Jonathan Myers, who she said showed consistent and predictable behaviors that indicated his potential as a future entrepreneur and his writing that showed "great growth, reflection and maturity."
"He took advantage of the opportunities here at Alt Ed to make peace with what was," she said.
Counselor Daniel Good presented the second scholarship to Derrick Futrell, who he said was close to giving up on himself a few times "but pushed through."
Board of Education member Alfred Williamson drew a loud round of applause after he said: "I am so proud to be here and I am so proud of these young men."
"But for chance and circumstance, we could all be there," Williamson said, gesturing to the audience, "or we could all be up here."
State Del. Mary Ann Lisanti was enthusiastic in congratulating the unique group of graduates.
"This is truly the boys club, or, more appropriately, the 'boys to men' club," Lisanti said. "Tomorrow is a new day. Everything starts anew. This is your success, this is your accomplishment, but it is the foundation to your future."
Carol Frontera, president of the Albert P. Close Foundation, urged the graduates to be the hero of their own story.
"You are the author of your life story, and today, a chapter is concluded," she said.
N'gai Lincoln Jr., was among those with a wide smile on his face as he greeted family and friends after the ceremony. He said he was eager to continue his education at Harford Community College, where he will study criminal justice and forensic science.
"It feels good to finally get it done and over with. It's a huge accomplishment," he said about graduation, adding he will remember "how supporting the teachers are."
"They go through a lot with students here," he said.
George Glasgow, meanwhile, saw himself as a survivor for making it to graduation. He planned to go to Harford Community College and hoped to become an electrical engineer.
Graduation, he said, represented "accomplishment, of all the struggle that I went through, all the things I thought I couldn't do."