"Hope is my philosophy; just needs days in which to be," Fallston High School's Concert Choir sang high above a sea of students, family and friends. "You are the new day."
The senior Cougars were indeed entering a new day Thursday afternoon, ready to walk out the doors of Harford Community College's APG Federal Credit Union with high school behind them.
"I am excited for graduation. It's the beginning to a new chapter," Kayla Reilly, one of 265 Fallston seniors set to get diplomas, said before the ceremony.
Kayla said she is headed to Campbell University, where she will play lacrosse. She has not chosen a major.
"You learn a lot at Fallston, the students and teachers all around you," she said, noting she played lacrosse, soccer and basketball all four years of high school.
"The sports are a big part of Fallston," she added.
So were academics. Connor Van Scyoc, who was graduating fifth in his class, said he enjoyed his experience at Fallston.
He had mixed feelings on graduation day.
"I am excited but I am also sad about it," he said. "It's a pretty big change."
Connor, who is going to the Honors College at University of Maryland, College Park, to study engineering, said Fallston "was a fun place to grow up, but I am ready to move on."
State Del. Kathy Szeliga gave students some words of wisdom on graduation, not from famous figures or brilliant minds, but from "anonymous" family members .
A little sister said, "Don't mess it up," according to Szeliga. A younger brother asked, "When are you moving out? I want your room."
A father said, "Spend your money wisely," while an aunt said, "If you need something, call me. I will tell you how to live without it."
Harford County Councilman Dick Slutzky told students the theme of his speech was the word "choices."
"Every young adult, within their culture, understands what is good or bad, right or wrong," Slutzky said, adding the students' choices – whom to associate with, whether to text and drive – will determine their futures.
"Choose wisely. Be safe," he said.
State Del. Pat McDonough, meanwhile, urged students to perform their civic duties. He reminded them that elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, where residents faced terrorism and violence, recently drew high numbers of voter turnout.
"All of you, register to vote, and vote," McDonough said, adding: "I don't care who you vote for."
State Sen. J. B. Jennings, who recently became a parent, told the parents in the audience he now understands parents have two emotions: happiness and anxiety.
"Your continuous anxiety paid off. You got them here, Mom and Dad – and brothers and sisters, also," he said.
Several members of the Class of 2014 were chosen to give speeches. Caitlin Kruzynski said high school has been a routine where "we wake up, we show up and we go on our way."
Now the world is wide open, she said, quoting Jon Stewart's own 1984 commencement address: "The unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective."
Student Evan Drake gave a humorous list of items the estimated $240,000 it costs to attend college could have been used to buy instead.
They included months of Netflix, a down payment on a million-dollar house and plenty of Qdoba burritos.
"Instead of buying all these things, we are preparing for success," Evan said, but noted students have already been successful.
"Everyone is special in their own way. We make each other strong," Evan sang, quoting a song from the Disney movie "High School Musical."
Brooke Hutton, meanwhile, gave an analogy for life using her four years of experience as a track athlete.
"Every race must be run. Life is happening right now," she said. "It's not the number of races that determines maturity. It's the maturity in the runner."
Her classmates seemed eager to start their races into rest of their lives.
After all, school was over before they realized it, Zach Ziervogel, who planned to study criminal justice at Harford Community College, said before the ceremony.
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"[Finishing school] feels good but it feels like went by really quick," he said.