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'Our school gives back to the world,' Harford Tech senior tells Class of 2019 at graduation

Lauren Hemling is known to her Harford Tech classmates as “the only girl in auto body.”

When she came to Tech, she had a choice, she told her classmates in the Class of 2019 Friday evening, when 225 students received their diplomas during a ceremony at the AGPFCU Arena at Harford Community College.

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“I could either switch Tech programs or embrace this journey and defy the stereotype of an auto body student,” Hemling said. “Obviously I accepted this challenge and not only have I become a better person, I have made amazing friends along the way.”

The students at Tech have a variety of experiences, senior class president Lisette Coley told her classmates as she introduced the students speakers for the evening.

“Tech has helped us learn, grow and accomplish things we didn’t know we could,” Coley said.

Hemling and many of her classmates have worked very hard during their four years at Tech, where the bar was set higher for them, Joshua Oltarzewski said.

Tech’s programs have challenged them in ways the community doesn’t often get to see, Oltarzewski, the student representative on the Harford County Board of Education, said.

“Our school gives back to the world we live in using skills we acquire in the classroom,” he said.

“Whether it be rebuilding an engine, drafting up-to-code rules and regulations or taking care of the animals, plans and people in the world where we live, one thing remains common among all of us,” Oltarzewski said. “We graduate high school with a practical skill set that will have a direct impact on people we interact with.”

Those skills were put to use at Friday’s graduation ceremony. As they processed into the arena, students who excelled in their tech areas carried flags designed by students, hanging on poles made by students and inserted into bases crafted by students. Special guests wore corsages and boutonnieres made by students.

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Even though they’re leaving high school, the learning isn’t over, valedeictorian Alexandra Pipken said. They will constantly grow, develop and learn.

For the Class of 2019, their high school years were “very much not a transition period,” she said.

“The friends we made, the memories we experienced are integral to our character and for better or worse, these past four years have shaped each and everyone one of us in intangible ways,” said Pipkin, who plans to attend Harvard College to study molecular and cellular biology to become a research pathologist specializing in infectious disease.

As they walk across the stage to accept their diplomas, Pipken told her classmates to remember this: “Remember where you’ve been, who helped you get there, keep the goals of where you’re headed in mind and enjoy this diploma you’re about to receive commemorating 13 years of hard work.”

Charles Hagan, who worked at Tech for 17 years, including 15 as principal, returned to the school Friday evening to watch his son, Noah, graduate.

He also received the 2019 Milton Mathiowdis Memorial Award from Principal Joseph Collins.

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Chas, as Hagan is known, “showed me what this place is all about,” Collins said.

“I call this place a gift because Chas Hagan presented it to me as such,” he said. “Because of him, I cannot imagine myself anywhere else.”

Hagan remembered sitting with the soon-to-be graduates four years earlier in the Amoss Center, then nervous eighth-graders. As they prepared to graduate, he asked them one thing: “If you want to succeed in life, if you want to judge yourself as successful, you can do it one way. Ask yourself this — what did I do for the people around me that I have absolutely no connection to and they can’t do anything for me? If you can treat those people well, you’ll treat everybody well.”

Before processing into the arena, the students waited anxiously in a room off in the back. They talked among themselves, made last-minute adjustments to their caps and gowns or practiced graduation speeches one final time.

Gabrielle Andrews of Abingdon, who studied floral design, Maddie Allen of Joppa, who studied nursing, and Madison Alley of Joppa, who studied animal science, were standing together.

They got excited as it was time to walk.

Andrews, who is going to University of Delaware to study marketing, said she felt great about graduating, “but I’m really going to miss [Tech].”

Maddie Re of Bel Air carried one of the tech area flags, which represent good leadership and good work habits. She studied sports medicine and intends to go to Shenandoah University in the fall to study occupational therapy. She’ll be on an accelerated track to get her master’s degree in five years.

During her senior year, Re working with the occupational therapist at John Archer School through an internship.

“I fell in love with the kids with disabilities, that’s who I want to work with,” she said.

Re felt a lot of emotions Friday evening — nervousness, excitement among them.

“There’s a lot of emotions built up because they’re family to me,” Re said.

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