With a small class and a proud history, Joppatowne High School's 42nd group of graduates walked across the stage Tuesday and into the rest of their lives.
Wearing caps and gowns of the school's purple and white colors, members of the Class of 2015 filed into Harford Community College's APG Federal Credit Union Arena on a gray afternoon. Despite the spotty rain, the atmosphere inside was festive and the rows of bleachers were decorated with purple and white bows in honor of Joppatowne's Class of 2015.
"Hello, Mariners, are you ready for today?" State Del. Rick Impallaria greeted the class from the stage, informing them he was a Joppatowne alum from the Class of 1980.
"You are a very special group of people," Impallaria said, reminding them they are Mariners and many may choose to stay in Joppatowne and build their homes there.
Regardless, he said, "you will always remember the time you spent at Joppatowne."
"Mariners, go out and show the world you are the best," he said.
The 147 seniors included many who took part in the school's distinctive Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program.
Two of them said their goals reflect the vision of the program.
Donald Hare III called it "a great opportunity" and said it definitely prepared him for life post-graduation.
Hare, who already volunteers as a firefighter at Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, said he is planning to start at Harford Community College and hopes to continue pursuing either firefighting or emergency medical services.
About graduating, he said with a smile: "I still can't believe it, to be honest. I still feel like I am in elementary school sometimes."
"I am pretty excited, but I still don't know what's going to happen after I graduate," he said.
Alexis Shuron said she hopes to become a police officer and is joining the cadet program after graduation.
She called Joppatowne "a good school," but added: "I am tired of school."
She nevertheless said she will remember her teachers. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here," she said.
Shuron was standing with Ashley Beavers, who wants to go into animal control.
"I am really excited to graduate and see what my future holds," she said. "I am excited to get out in the real world."
Another Joppatowne alum, Harford County Councilman Mike Perrone, gave the graduates several pieces of advice, including: "Make sure you understand the difference between market capitalism and crony capitalism."
He said the problems in their community might then make more sense.
Perrone also advised walking in the shoes of someone they disagreed with and urged graduates to never "disengage" from their society.
"Bad people can only climb the ladder in our society if the good people allow them to," he said.
Perrone told the class they were special because they were Mariners.
"A lot of people might not know what that means, but I was in your seat 22 years ago, and I know what that means," he said.
Valedictorian Andreya Antoine told her classmates life will not be easy, but failure can mean different things to different people, and "it's only you that tells you that you failed."
She also said they should never be limited by other people's limited imaginations.
Class president Austin Kocsan gave a "big thanks to all the teachers" and said life will have a lot more gray areas than questions in school.
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"All the problems we faced in school always had a right or wrong answer. In life, there is no right or wrong choice," he said, adding members of the class will be "morally and ethically" challenged as they grow older.