Penny McKnight gathered the 29 members of the Class of 2016 around her for one final prayer as Harford Christian School students, before they lined up to walk into the school gym for their commencement ceremony Friday evening.
McKnight, a senior class adviser and an English teacher at the private school in Dublin, helped the seniors in the school library as they got ready.
"Let's pray together one last time," she said.
McKnight thanked God "for the delightful hours we have spent, not just learning together, but having fun together."
"I'm really happy, but it's sad that I will not see these special kids [every day]," said Sangho "Sam" Park, the senior class president, said.
Park, 20, is an international student from South Korea. He plans to study business management at Stony Brook University in New York.
Park also oversaw his class' efforts to raise $10,000, half for a charter bus to take the seniors to The Wilds Christian Camp in North Carolina, an annual destination for Harford Christian senior classes.
The other $5,000 went toward the Class of 2016's gift, a brick lighting pier, which has been installed at the south entrance to the campus, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Harford Christian in 1966.
"We really, really worked hard for that," Park said of the fundraising.
Senior Ramsey Sexton, 17, of Street, plans to study mechanical engineering and join the ROTC unit at Liberty University in Virginia.
"I'm just excited," he said of finishing high school. "I'm relieved to finally get over it and finally move on to the next step of my life."
Sexton noted his class is "really close."
"We really focused our goals on growing in Christ," he said.
Danni Brindle, 17, of Pylesville, plans to study psychology at Harford Community College.
"I'm going to miss this school, but I've waited 17 years for this!" she exclaimed.
Brindle said she will miss the HCS faculty and staff, as well as her classmates.
"They don't consider us a number," she said. "They really care about us and our well being, and I'm going to miss my classmates because they're awesome people."
'God is always with you'
Park welcomed family and friends to the commencement ceremony.
He thanked parents for their support of his classmates. He urged his fellow graduates to "be confident, because God is always with you."
Graduate Noah Akers read a passage of Scripture, Ecclesiastes 1:1-18, a cautionary tale about relentless pursuit of material wealth, success and knowledge.
The passage states "all is vanity."
Brooke Fletcher was the class salutatorian. She reflected on the end of the high school journey.
"It reminds us that life is constantly changing," she said. "People come and go, and we are constantly growing as individuals."
Fletcher noted she and her classmates "have to choose whether we will live for ourselves or live for God."
Nick Giro was the class valedictorian. He is one of five members of the class who have been at Harford Christian since kindergarten.
"Attending Harford Christian School has been a blessing both academically and socially, but most importantly, it has been a blessing spiritually," he said.
Giro and Fletcher were both on the school's EnviroThon team, which earned its 10th consecutive Harford County title this year.
Giro compared the school experience to streams, citing his passion for studying aquatics.
He said school can be compared to a "first-order stream," a designation for the smallest type of stream.
Giro and his classmates are moving into a "second-order stream," one that is not only larger, but also has obstacles such as islands and sandbars, similar to the obstacles they will face as adults.
Giro noted they are "going off into a wicked world."
"We as Christians must be shining lights to this world . . . be witnesses and stand up for what is right, never lose sight of your faith in the Lord," he said.
Graduate Savannah Kane announced the senior class gift. She said the money was raised through a variety of activities, such as selling chocolate bars and pizza, and blood drives.
"We thought it would be a wonderful way to commemorate the Class of 2016 and show our gratitude to Harford Christian School," Kane said.
Principal Bryan Wilson estimated that the $10,000 raised by the Class of 2016 is the largest amount of money raised by a class in school history.
Jonathan Blome, a member of the Harford Christian Education Fund board of directors, presented a $10,000 grant from the fund to the school. The annual grant supports the HCS operating budget.
Clinton Scarborough, a 2005 HCS graduate, who grew up in Harford County, was the commencement speaker.
He referenced the Bible passage Akers read earlier as he discussed how a Christian can live "a great life."
"A great life is characterized by glorifying and enjoying God," Scarborough said.
He warned that a great life does not always mean an easy life.
"For the Christian, the cross precedes the crown," he said. "We will suffer, but that's OK because the cross precedes the crown."
Wilson honored the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who support Harford Christian students.
He also recognized his assistant, Terry Martin, who is retiring after 18 years of working with the school. She was hired in the summer of 1998, the same time Wilson started as principal.
He thanked Martin for her "dedication and top-notch customer service," and "for putting your shoulder in the yoke with me 18 years ago."
"It goes without saying that you will be dearly missed," Wilson said.
Wilson also gave a brief biography of each of the 29 graduates' academic, athletic, social and extracurricular accomplishments as they received their diplomas.
Park's biography was read twice, once by Wilson in English, and again in Korean by John Slack, the international student liaison and a junior high history teacher.
Slack read it in Korean for Park's father, Sung Soo Park, who traveled 6,950 miles from South Korea to attend his son's graduation.