Perryville High School's commencement was not only a bittersweet time for the 180 members of the Class of 2015, many of whom are leaving friends they have had for four years, but also for the teachers who have worked with them during those same four years.
Jake Moore, a cross country and track and field coach as well as a Spanish teacher, warmly embraced graduate Tyler McCall after the school's 105th commencement Thursday evening on the Perryville High football field.
"This is the toughest part of my job," Moore said of graduations.
He had Tyler as a Spanish student for three years, and he also coached him in track and cross-country. Tyler was a member of two state champion track teams and one state champion cross-country team during his high school running career.
"This is a special kid," Moore said about Tyler. "They don't all come like this; he's wired for success."
Moore congratulated more of his students as they gathered with their families and school faculty members after the ceremony.
He gave one graduate advice to "keep your head down and push through," and he told another to keep in touch with the "occasional text."
"It's bittersweet day," Moore said. "You hate to see them leave, but you love knowing that they're on to bigger and better things."
Tyler, 18 from Conowingo, said he plans to enlist in the Navy. He also called graduation "bittersweet."
"It's bittersweet, because it's been four long years," he said. "I never thought this day would be as emotional as it is. Growing up with these people, seeing them develop into adults, it's surreal."
During the ceremony, the graduates heard words of wisdom from their senior class president Machel Maxam, salutatorian Robert James and valedictorian Samantha von Staden, plus their principal, Charles Helm, and Cecil County Board of Education member William Malesh.
Maxam talked about how the graduates have "persevered" through their time at Perryville High and although they are moving toward adulthood, "we will forever be proud Perryville Panthers."
"Thank you for making my time at Perryville High the most memorable years of my life," she told her classmates.
James, the salutatorian, acknowledged his classmate Michael Jones, who missed becoming salutatorian "by the narrowest of margins."
"Thanks, Michael, for all your years of support," he said.
James thanked the teachers, friends and family members who have helped the Class of 2015 make it to commencement.
He said the diploma "places a heavy responsibility" on the class to serve as role models in society.
"You now have the chance to be as successful as you want to be," he said. "The sky is the limit, and I believe in every one of you."
Valedictorian von Staden said there are "a million and one ways" to prepare a valedictory speech, but she told her classmates she wanted to "keep this one true to me and all about you."
"You've made it!" she said. "It's over, and after today we will move on to start on a new path."
Von Staden encouraged her classmates to "continue to take chances and be open to new things."
"Try to live your life in a way that you have the least amount of regrets," she said, urging the graduates to remember everyone who has supported them through high school.
"You are brave, you are strong, you are capable of succeeding at anything that you do," von Staden said. "There is no other class that I would rather graduate with."
Graduates Elizabeth Brown, Frankie Justison, Rachel Marshall and Emily Toland sang their rendition of the song "For Good" from the musical "Wicked."
Helm congratulated the graduates on their successes during the past four years, including earning $2.6 million in scholarships.
"I will always be grateful and proud to say I was your principal, Class of 2015," he said.
Helm noted that, as students, they are taught information and then tested on what they have learned.
"In life, you are given tests that teach you lessons," he said. "Embrace every opportunity to learn life's lessons."
Malesh, who was elected to his first term on the Cecil County school board last year, told the graduates that they will not stop learning after high school.
He said he is "learning to be a new board member."
"At my age, I am still learning something, not only to support my community but to participate in life, to learn and grow," he said.
Graduate Morgan Broman, 18, of Perryville, wore a pair of Mickey Mouse ears as she posed for pictures with her relatives.
She said she plans to attend York College of Pennsylvania and study hospitality.
"I'm just excited," she said. "I'm just ready to go to the next thing."
Broman was on the Perryville High cheerleading squad, which she said "really helped me grow as a person."
"I'm very proud of her and all of her accomplishments and how she has grown, from freshman year to her senior year," Broman's mother, Julie DiFuccia, said.
Her stepfather, Robert DiFuccia, said Broman has "grown so much in the last four years."