Nicole Praglowski, the valedictorian of the Joppatowne High School Class of 2016, expressed her hopes for her 166 classmates during the school's 43rd annual commencement Wednesday, such as her hopes for them and their friends, their families and their futures.
"I hope you can be proud of yourselves with what you have accomplished, and know this is just one small step in our lives and there's much more to come," she said.
Praglowski spoke to her classmates and their friends and families gathered in the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College. The boys wore purple caps and gowns, and the girls wore white.
"Some of us will go into college and others will go into the workforce," Praglowski said. "Your future is in your own hands, so it's up to you to make something of it."
Stephanie West, the senior class president, said the words she has been waiting to say for four years: "We finally get to graduate today!"
West, 17, noted "we've been through a lot together." She took them back to 1998, the year many of the graduates were born, a time when Google was just starting out as a company, through their elementary school graduations in 2009, the year President Barack Obama was inaugurated, and then their middle school graduations in 2012, when Obama was re-elected.
She also encouraged her classmates to "look forward into our future," and to remember their experiences at Joppatowne will stay with them throughout their lives.
"All of us will do amazing things," she added.
Assistant Principal Michael Quigg filled in for Principal Pamela Zeigler, who could not attend Wednesday's ceremony.
Quigg said more than 90 percent of the Class of 2016 will move on to post-secondary education, either four-year colleges, two-year colleges or trade schools. He noted 16 graduates will join the military.
Robert Frisch, a member of the Harford County Board of Education, imparted some words of wisdom to the graduates, did State Sen. J.B. Jennings, Del. Rick Impallaria – a 1980 Joppatowne graduate, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and County Councilman Mike Perrone, a 1993 Joppatowne graduate.
"Thank you for letting me share in your well-deserved recognition," Frisch said. "Good luck and God bless."
Impallaria told the graduates that, "just like you, I am a proud Mariner."
"What you learn at Joppatowne High School will stay with you the rest of your life," he said.
Impallaria encouraged the graduates to consider returning to Harford County for their adult lives and not to let peer pressure "push you in the wrong direction."
"Be the best you can be, to make all of us former Mariners very proud of you," he said.
Perrone told the class, "don't ever allow yourself to become a passive participant in your own destiny."
The graduates' friends and families cheered and screamed as each member of the Class of 2016 crossed the stage to receive his or her diploma.
They gathered outside the arena after the ceremony, congratulating each other and posing for pictures.
Jake Hall, 18, of Edgewood, and Nick Godsey, 18, of Joppatowne, have been friends since their sophomore year.
Hall, who will go to work with his uncle, an electrician, called graduation exciting. He said he plans to stay in Harford County for the time being.
"No place like home," he said.
Godsey will travel to Ohio, however, to study computer science at The College of Wooster. He said he's thankful high school is over.
"The [old] stress is gone, and the new stress is back in," Godsey said. "Goodbye projects, hello independent study!"
West, the senior class president, stood on top of the base of a utility pole, searching for her family.
The Edgewood resident plans to study law and justice at Wesley College in Dover, Del.
She said she was nervous about giving her speech, but "I practiced it a lot."
"It was easy talking to my classmates," she said.
Moisemah Dedeh, 17, of Edgewood, posed for pictures with his relatives. He plans to study engineering at Harford Community College.
"It feels really good," he said of graduating.
Dedeh completed Joppatowne's Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program in addition to earning his high school diploma.
The homeland security program, a three-year signature program open to students in the Joppatowne High attendance area, is an opportunity for students to study homeland security, criminal justice or information technology issues and work with professionals in those fields.
The 38 graduating seniors put their Capstone projects on display for the public in May.
"It was a lot of hard work, but it pays off in the end," said Dedeh, who wore a purple-and-silver HSEP stole over his robe. "It feels really, really exciting to complete both high school and the homeland security program."