The featured speaker at Oakland Mills High School commencement ceremony last night urged students to find innovative solutions to the problems confronting the United States.
"Identify one problem and find creative ways to solve it," said Gary R. Ahrens, chairman of the guidance department at the Howard County school. He listed problems in health care, government and the economy as some issues to consider.
Mr. Ahrens also called on students to strengthen family ties -- the foundation of the American dream, he said.
"Learn the secret of prioritization," he said, adding that their future spouses and children should come first in their lives.
"Be a hero at home, amongst your friends," he said. "Use the road less traveled in life, and you will be rewarded."
After the last of the 274 diplomas were handed out last night, students triumphantly pumped their fists in the air and tearful parents hugged.
Oakland Mills' 18th graduating class included three National Merit Scholarship winners, seven Maryland Distinguished Scholars, and 11 students who graduated with perfect grade point averages. More than half the graduates had earned certificates of merit, which the state awards to students who complete a specified number of gifted and talented, advanced placement and honors classes.
Student speakers told of some of their experiences during their four years at "The Mill," including taking -- and failing -- their driving tests, buying a tuxedo for the prom and winning the float competition during homecoming.
"It's never easy to say goodbye and leave our good friends . . . ," said student speaker Amy Chapin. "We are prepared to join our local, national and world communities as . . . caring adults" who won't be afraid to speak out on issues.
The graduating class includes:
* Benjamin Washington, an 18-year-old who won the prestigious, four-year Meyerhoff Scholarship for minority students to the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He was a member of the cross country and indoor and outdoor track teams. All were state champions this year.
Learning how to balance athletics and academics was difficult, Mr. Washington said. But when it got tough, he always reminded himself of hilly, cross country runs, when he focused on breaking past the finish line. Through sports, he said, he "learned perseverance and leadership skills that I can use" in the future.
Mr. Washington hasn't made a decision on where he'll attend college -- the University of Pennsylvania also wants him.
* Kristi Avery, 17, who won the best female athlete award. She was a member of the soccer team, which won the state championship this year, and the indoor and outdoor track teams. In her spare time, she bakes bread for homeless families and volunteers at the Special Olympics.
She advises future high-schoolers: "You have to work hard. It's not as easy as it seems, especially if you're involved with athletics. It takes a lot of commitment."
bTC Kristi will attend Salisbury State University and wants to become a sports trainer.
* Marcus Klein, who had a 4.0 grade point average, was the student associate this year on the county Board of Education. The 17-year-old is leaving high school armed with $16,000 in scholarship money. He'll attend the University of Texas at Austin to study either education or political science.
* Jill Sammons graduated in the top 5 percent of her class. She captained the women's lacrosse team, which after years of losing, made it to the state regionals this year.
She coordinated tutorial programs for elementary school children for the National Honor Society, of which she was the historian.
"It's important to study hard, but if you don't get involved in extracurricular activities, you don't get a sense of what's going on in the school," Jill said.
She'll attend Duke University next fall.