Patterson Mill valedictorian urges classmates to work 'until all lives truly matter'

Genae Hatcher, the valedictorian for the Patterson Mill High School Class of 2016, has also spent the past year as the voice of nearly 38,000 Harford County Public Schools students as the student representative to the Board of Education.

Despite those accomplishments, Hatcher, who is black, said during the school's seventh annual commencement Tuesday that she feels she could be related to some of the African-Americans across the country who have died at the hands of law enforcement officers in recent years – she noted Freddie Gray, 25, whose death last April after being injured while Baltimore police officers arrested him touched off several days of unrest in the city, could have been her older brother.


"It is by God's grace that I stand before you today," Hatcher told her classmates, giving the credit for her successes to God and her family.

She spoke to her classmates – the girls in teal caps and gowns and the boys in black – and their families gathered in the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College.

Hatcher praised Patterson Mill's commitment to diversity and tolerance as a factor in her success, and she urged her classmates to work to improve society "until all lives truly matter."

"We are the future," she said. "It is up to you and I to decide."

Hatcher stuck her fist in the air and smiled as her classmates applauded at the end of her speech.

She is one of 202 members of the Class of 2016.

Principal Sean Abel noted "this class is leaving no one behind," as every member of the senior class graduated.

"It was wonderful to be able to work with all 202 of you," he said.

Abel said the Class of 2016 has earned an estimated $9.5 million in scholarships, and he highlighted students' achievements in sports and the arts.

He also noted many graduates had to overcome major hardships, with the help of caring faculty and their families, to make it to commencement.

"I couldn't be prouder; this is your day," Abel said. "I'm honored to be your principal today."

Kyrsten Leland, the senior class president, asked her classmates how they would measure their time in high school, based on their experiences, and "how will you measure the rest of your life," based on the choices each graduate makes as an adult.

"No one will tell you what choices to make, not even your parents, try as they might," Leland said. "The choice is entirely yours, make the right one."

Graduate Jana Cook was the commencement speaker – Abel noted it is a Patterson Mill tradition to have a member of the senior class as the keynote speaker at commencement.


Janet Breen, a Spanish teacher who has had Cook in many of her classes, introduced the speaker. Breen said Cook is heading to Spain, where she will live with a host family and work as an au pair.

"Commencement is a time for reflection, reflection of our successes, our failures, in our journey through high school," Cook said.

She said she pictured herself starting to cry at the end of her speech when reflecting on memories of high school.

Cook offered the words of children's author Dr. Seuss: "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

"This made me realize, I shouldn't be sad or crying," she said, joking that she should be "smiling all summer."

Cook told her classmates that "these memories are just beginning." She said they will face challenging obstacles in life, but their education at Patterson Mill will help them through those obstacles.

Cook noted the school's vision statement, "today we learn, tomorrow we lead."

"Well everyone, it's finally that tomorrow, and thanks to Patterson Mill, we will succeed," she said. "With that being said, it's time for us take our knowledge and put it to good use."

Cook encouraged her classmates to "make good memories in the future, and don't cry over the past."

The graduates heard words of wisdom from school board member Tom Fitzpatrick, state Sen. Robert Cassilly, Del. Susan McComas, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and County Councilman Jim McMahan.

Cassilly told the Class of 2016 that "they do have the right stuff."

"Graduates, I can assure you that each of you has within you what it takes to build a great life," he said.

McComas reminded them to treasure every moment they have with their parents, because they will be "devastated" when they are gone.

"In the end, what really counts are those relationships, not the money, honor or prestige," she said.

The graduates gathered in the gym at HCC's Susquehanna Center before their processional to the arena.

"I'm really looking forward to graduation," said 17-year-old Ambrosia Chen, of Bel Air, who plans to student biology at the University of Maryland College Park.

Her classmate, 18-year-old Stephanie Canatella, of Abingdon, will study nursing at Towson University.

"I planned my life all [the way] through, up to this point," she said. "It's scary not knowing what I'm going to do with my life."

Canatella said she knows she's going to college, "but I have no clue what's going to happen afterward."

"Other than that, I'm so excited," she said.