In what has become a Baltimore tradition, tears flowed freely yesterday at the Laurence G. Paquin School's 13th annual salute to mothers.
The day is not for the mothers and mothers-to-be who attend the Northeast Baltimore school, but for their mothers or mother surrogates -- grandmothers, aunts, teachers.
Over the years, the event's reputation has evolved to the point where people come to watch the weeping, and shed a few tears themselves.
Like fans at a beloved, three-handkerchief movie, the audience of family members and friends applauded those who broke down, and murmured approvingly at each hug or embrace. The simplest sentence -- "Thank you for being with me through thick and thin" -- made everyone dissolve.
"It does my heart good to see this," said Rosetta Stith, the school's principal. "Some of these girls, you would never have an inkling that they feel this way. When you see them so filled with emotion, you know they're on their way to being good mothers.
"There's no script for this," she added. "We just get out the Kleenex and let it go."
Connie Law, a mother of two at age 20, was poised as she faced her mother, Gloria Spriggs. Once a high school drop-out, Ms. Law will graduate from Paquin this month. She plans to go on to college, where she will study physical therapy.
"I want you to be proud of me," she said simply, presenting her mother with silk roses. "I still love you more than ever."
Her mother showed her pride by turning the tables on her daughter, reappearing at the end of the program with a bouquet of fresh flowers.
"I love you and you're special, and I know how difficult it was going back to school with two children," she said. "You've done a wonderful job and you're graduating this year, and I'm psyched!"
Adrienne Simms, 17 and expecting her first child in August, honored not only her mother, but her boyfriend's mother. Erin Johnson, a 14-year-old student who lives with her father, wanted her mother, Carolyn Martin, to know how often she thinks of her.
"All I can say is thank you for being my mother, even though we've never been close," she said.
Ms. Martin replied: "Even though you do live with your father, my heart is with you wherever you are."
If the audience had voted for its favorite moment, one sure contender would have been the Vinson family -- Alicia, sister Tia and mother Peggy.
The three, dressed identically in African-print T-shirts and leggings, clutched one another as Alicia tried to choke out her sentiments. The men in her life -- her father, Clinton Vinson, and son, Tyrone Holloway -- watched from the audience as she thanked everyone. She was especially grateful to Tia, who had helped her care for 17-month-old Tyrone.
After the ceremony, Alicia said she had left Paquin in December, returning to Lake Clifton High School. She misses the school, she said wistfully. But Tia, 15 and in the seventh month of her own pregnancy, is now a Paquin student.
Traditionally, the Mother's Day celebration ends with Dr. Stith facing her own mother, Edna Stith. This year was no different.
"Somebody had to put the light in your bulb," Dr. Stith told her students, her arm around her mother. "That light made you who you are, even when you didn't know who you are."