The parents and extended family members of Joppatowne High School 2018 graduate Amya Hill wore bright purple T-shirts bearing images of her face as they gathered with Hill following the school’s 45th commencement ceremony Wednesday afternoon.
“We all came together for her big day,” Amya’s mother, Carolyn Hill, of Joppatowne, said.
Hill and her husband, Jeremy, are both retired from the Army. She said members of her family traveled from Colorado, and her husband’s relatives came from Georgia.
“It’s a very proud moment as a parent,” Jeremy Hill said.
More than 130 members of the senior class, wearing white and purple caps and gowns, crossed the stage in the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College to get their diplomas.
About 95 percent of 138-member class is going on to either college, technical school, the military or law enforcement, according to Principal Pamela Zeigler.
Amya, 17, said she plans to study nursing at Albany State University in Georgia. She recalled struggling academically her freshman and sophomore years, but she “just kicked butt” her junior and senior years.
She encouraged young high school students who find themselves in similar situations to “just keep pushing... even if you don’t want to, because it will pay off.”
“Just make it the best experience you can, because you’ll only be in high school for four years and then it’s the real world,” she said.
Hill’s mother said the family is “super excited to see her go off into her new adventures.”
“We’ve provided her all the tools to be successful and now, with her bag of tools, she’s ready to go out there and build the future that she wants,” Carolyn Hill said.
Zachary Wagmun, 17, of Joppa, said he plans to attend Harford Community College for an electrician’s apprenticeship program.
“I’m glad to be out, and I’m ready to move on to the next step,” he said.
Hazel Morgan, of Joppa, said Wagmun is a friend of her family.
“We’ve seen him grow up, and we’re just excited for him, we really, really are,” she said.
Morgan is a member of the Safety and Security Advisory Council for Harford County Public Schools and the past president of the Joppatowne Recreation Council.
She spent decades as a teacher in school districts throughout the country, including in Baltimore City and Harford County.
One graduate is a former student from her tenure in Baltimore, and many others participated in Joppatowne rec leagues, with their parents serving as coaches, Morgan said.
She invoked the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
“The village has come full circle with them, so it’s great, it’s a good feeling,” Morgan said of the graduates. “As much negativity as we hear, this gives you hope for the future.”
The seniors heard remarks from valedictorian Kacey Lebrun and class president Breea Stevenson.
Commencement means it is “time to get out there and achieve our goals, time to achieve success, time to focus on our future,” Lebrun said.
“We have come such a long way, and this is a beautiful end to an even more beautiful beginning,” Lebrun said.
Class vice president Taylor Jones introduced Stevenson.
“I love you all, and Breea, we did it,” Jones said.
Stevenson provided three life lessons she has learned while at Joppatowne High.
The first involves stepping out of one’s comfort zone and trying something new.
The second involves the saying “elevation requires separation,” which she saw recently on Instagram.
“Separate yourself from things or people who are holding you back and keeping you from reaching a better you,” she said.
The third lesson is to focus on “this moment” and not dwell on the past.
“It is very important that we keep moving forward and chase our dreams,” Stevenson said.
She said she finds the third lesson “more important now than ever” in light of deadly mass shootings in schools and other public places in recent years.
“Life is so short — we do not know when our time is up, and we need to set goals for a better future for us, our families and the world as a whole,” Stevenson said.
The class also heard from Board of Education Member Robert Frisch, state Sen. Robert Cassilly, Del. Kathy Szeliga, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and County Councilman Mike Perrone, a 1993 graduate of Joppatowne.
“Think about the lessons that your fellow Americans are teaching you, the examples that they give,” Cassilly said.
He cited Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio, who was killed in the line of duty in Perry Hall May 21, and Maryland National Guard Sgt. Eddison “Eddie” A. Hermond, who was found dead Tuesday after being washed away while trying to rescue a woman as floodwaters rushed through downtown Ellicott City Sunday.
“Two people who gave their lives up for their fellow man, without question, without thinking, solely so all of us could have a better life,” Cassilly said.