The 201 members of the Perryville High School Class of 2016 are on the cusp of adulthood, having completed high school and prepared themselves for college or careers, but their salutatorian encouraged them to "hold to your youth as long as possible."
"Be a kid as long as you can, because who really wants to grow up anyway?" Morgan Hazel told her classmates Friday during the Cecil County school's 106th annual commencement. "I still want to go down water slides at an amusement park, or order chicken fingers off of the kids' menu."
Hazel, 18, acknowledged she and her classmates must become fully-fledged adults, but she encouraged them to "live in the present" and keep their youthful enthusiasm.
"I encourage you to hope, dream and inspire," she said.
Hazel said her class should not fear change, and to "hold on to the best versions of yourselves."
"Don't stop living; don't stop being curious," she said. "Try new things and experience life."
Hazel was one of several student speakers who shared words of wisdom with the Class of 2016 as the graduates sat on the football field in the warm evening sun. Their friends and families watched the ceremony from the stands.
Benjamin Douty, the senior class president, said commencement is "a huge step toward accomplishing our goals in life."
"No matter where we go in life, as long as we have a passion for what we do and we put our best effort out, there is a bright future for us," he said.
Douty thanked his fellow graduates "for making the last four years of my life unforgettable; once a Panther, always a Panther."
Valedictorian Trevor Fell noted memories of things he and his classmates have learned in school might fade, but memories of positive times with friends and faculty members will remain.
"Those memories are the ones that truly define us," he said.
Fell described graduation as "a cleansing."
"We have a chance to make a brand new name for ourselves and start a new chapter in our lives," he said.
Fell encouraged his classmates to "remain positive and excited for what this new phase of our lives will bring."
Principal Charles Helm reflected on some of the "awesome" moments of the past school year, such as the Panthers' state championship in softball, which capped an undefeated season for the team, the girls' volleyball team taking a regional championship, the marching band's eighth consecutive state championship and the spring state production, Disney's "The Little Mermaid."
The class also has earned more than $4.9 million in scholarships, Helm said.
"I wish to congratulate the members of the senior class for earning the right to graduate today," he said.
Helm said the graduates should remember those who helped them along their paths, and "appreciate that special teacher or counselor or coach that touched your life."
The principal also cited a quote from NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi:
"If you'll not settle for anything less than your best, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish in your lives," Helm said, quoting Coach Lombardi.
William Malesh, who represents Perryville and Port Deposit on the Cecil County Board of Education, also spoke to the graduates.
He encouraged them to think about "who you are," and how that will define their direction in life.
"Create that vision for yourself and stick to it," Malesh said. "Stay true to your path and find your way."
He said they should focus on the vision they have for themselves, but also "honor those who have helped you get there."
"Tell them what they mean to you and give back to them, and other people," he said.
The graduates walked on stage and received their diplomas and then shifted to the running track for the traditional tossing of their caps.
They then mingled with friends and relatives on the field, exchanging hugs and kisses and posing for photos.
Destiny Watson, 17, of Perryville, plans to study pharmacy at West Virginia University.
"It's like just finishing another chapter [in life], maybe a bigger one since it's high school," she said of graduation.
Watson said she likes her class "as a whole."
"No matter how many fights we got in, we all just love each other as one whole," she said.
Graduate Nick Schweers, 19, of Perryville, plans to study math and play tennis at Cecil College.
Schweers said he thinks "graduating is the best thing you could ever have," although he will leave classmates that have become like family.
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I don't want to leave the school, because that has been like a home to me, he said. My friends, they treat me like family; it's the best thing that could ever happen to me.