Tuesday's commencement ceremony for the more than 300 members of the Aberdeen High School Class of 2017 included a tribute to one graduate, Samuel Norman Giambalvo, who died last October at age 17 after being struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle.
Aberdeen High Principal Michael O'Brien briefly stopped the process of giving diplomas to each graduate to welcome Samuel's mother, Aimee Ellenport, and stepfather, Victor Guidice, of Havre de Grace, on stage at the APG Federal Credit Union at Harford Community College to accept Norman's posthumous diploma.
Samuel died Oct. 2, 2016 at the University of Maryland Medical Center, according to his obituary. Guidice, his stepfather, said later that Samuel was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle along Route 40 in Havre de Grace.
O'Brien described Samuel as "a bright shining star" to those who crossed paths with him.
The principal said Samuel's parents everyone gathered in the arena to remember him with a cheer, rather than consider the moment somber, and the audience responded with a full-throated yell.
O'Brien said after the ceremony that Samuel, who was a senior when he died, "was just the happiest kid, had so many friends."
He said the school held a candlelight vigil to remember Samuel during the fall.
"It was amazing, because he was so loved," O'Brien recalled.
The school's 109th annual commencement ceremony was festive, as families and friends cheered as each graduate received their diploma.
"Continue your education, find that passion, that thing that brings fire to your belly, and make it your life's work," O'Brien told the seniors.
The graduates, who wore blue gowns and caps accented with gold tassels, heard from their classmates, Kyeisha Laurence and Alaysia Johnson, teacher Joshua Rupert and elected officials such as Board of Education member Rachel Gauthier, state Sen. Robert Cassilly, state Del. Glen Glass, County Executive Barry Glassman and County Council President Richard Slutzky.
Laurence said her experience at AHS "has truly helped to shape me into the person that I am today" and praised her classmates for welcoming her when she arrived freshman year, her family having immigrated from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.
"It's about finding yourself, finding friends who turn into family and making the best of the four short years we are given," she said of the high school experience.
Johnson said she and her classmates have worked together to reach the first milestone in their lives, high school graduation.
"We have each come from different walks of life, but the one that thing we share in common is Aberdeen High School," she said. "Whether you're the jock, the class clown, the dancer, the dreamer, the nerd or the shy kid, we each have AHS."
Johnson encouraged her classmates to, as adults, "take our dreams as far as they'll take us."
"It has been an absolute honor being a part of the Class of 2017," she said.
Rupert, who teaches math and physics, said he will "forever be grateful" for what he has learned from his students, not only the latest teen slang, but attributes such as loyalty, that they truly want to be held accountable for their actions, that he should have high expectations for them, and they showed him great levels of kindness and generosity.
"In essence, they taught me the true meaning of being a teacher and most importantly, they have taught me that there is no place I would rather teach than right here at Aberdeen High School," he said.
"Parents, grandparents and significant other people who have directed and impacted the lives these graduates, you should be commended for the work that you did in creating young people of this caliber."