As the 37th class to walk out of the doors of Harford Technical High School, the members of the Class of 2015 had some big shoes to fill, as well as some big dreams of their own.
They also had plenty of help going forward, Principal Charles Hagan reminded the graduates Friday. He pointed out their teachers, parents and grandparents learned to persevere and move past tough times.
In a burst of audience participation, Hagan asked those attending the commencement ceremony to raise their hands if they ever struggled for a good grade in school (many of them) or ever had a job they did not like (almost everyone).
"Your parents have learned something you are going to learn," he told the students seated before him on the school's stage, explaining that good things can come from failure. "Getting hired in Harford County [Public Schools] came from a failure."
Hagan said he was lucky to grow up in a blue-collar neighborhood, where "I saw people get up every day, I saw people work hard every day."
Harford County Councilman Pat Vincenti told the graduates his story of graduating from Havre de Grace High School in 1972, starting to work at the Bel Air Bakery three days later, marrying his wife and starting a family shortly after and also launching the decoy-carving business that has become his life's work.
"The past 43 years have gone by like the blink of an eye," Vincenti said, adding he and his wife have clearly been successful and blessed. "One of our regrets is that we did not make time to further pursue our education in a traditional manner."
As Vincenti reminded the students, not all of them are aspiring engineers, doctors or lawyers.
"Whatever career you choose, find something you love and pursue it," he said, mentioning the historical significance of the art of decoy-carving.
Hunter Lidke is, however, one of those aspiring engineers in the graduating class. The Abingdon resident is going to study mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania's Geneva College and said he dreams of designing "a car that is safe and fuel-efficient, unlike most [vehicles that are] hybrids."
He said the automotive repair program at Harford Tech helped him pursue that vision.
"I think it helped prepare me reasonably well," Hunter said, adding he is "excited" to be graduating.
Mary Kate Kuegler, of Bel Air, said she was vice-president of Future Farmers of America and plans to study early childhood education at Harford Community College.
"I am excited but I am nervous because now I am an actual adult, because now my whole life starts," she said of graduation. "FFA was my entire life and will still be, if I make state office."
Rhonda Mahaley, of Joppatowne, and Kara Hayward, of Joppa, are also headed to the community college across the street from Harford Tech. Rhonda said she wants to study forensic science, having done Harford Tech's forensic science program, while Kara is interested in nursing.
Both were excited about their last day at the school.
"I am going to miss my teachers," Kara said, mentioning Dylan Steiner. Rhonda recalled Jason Mills, her forensic teacher.
Jordan Harper, class president, gave a host of advice to his classmates during his speech to his classmates, their families and guests.
The theme was that they should persevere and not let negative people drag them down.
"Commit to doing the best you can do and you will attract success," Jordan said, adding that they should strive not to disappoint their parents and remember their parents' dreams for them.
"To make it to the top of the game, it takes patience," he said.
Anna-Lisa Hillenburg, class valedictorian, said the graduates made it through difficult tests and other challenges during their high school career.
"I learned from you that other people are always so much more multifaceted than you think they are," she said.