Nearly 2,700 students walked the stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion last week and became, in one tassel-turning moment, alumni of the Howard County public school system.
Every day last week, save Monday, which was a holiday, at least one district high school graduated its seniors - who began school in 1987 and finished on the cusp of the 21st century.
The graduating class of 2000 had about 2,664 students, school district spokeswoman Patti Caplan said. And taxpayers have invested close to $200 million in this year's graduates - $74,103 per student over the 13 school years.
More money - and more students - than ever before.
"This is, by far, our largest class," Caplan said. "Last year was about 2,500. In 1990, there were only 2,019. It's been going up about 150 students every year."
As the class sizes have grown, so too have the populations of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians, Caplan said. In 1991, 76.3 percent of Howard County high school students were white. This year, 70.9 percent are white.
In Howard County, 61 percent of students usually choose a four-year college or university after graduation, but this year, there's more diversity in terms of what seniors plan to do after they receive their diplomas.
"This year we had a record number of kids going into the military," said Liz Gates, the registrar at Atholton High School, which graduated 229 seniors Tuesday.
Although about 90 percent of Atholton graduates said they plan to attend a two- or four-year college this fall, about 6 percent chose to join one of the branches of the armed services.
"We have more kids going into the military than that are going straight into the workforce, and that's unusual," Gates said. "And a lot of it is because of the college benefits you get."
At Wilde Lake High School, which sent off its graduates Thursday, more students than ever are choosing to attend Howard Community College - between 15 percent and 18 percent, said Judy Jenkins, chairwoman of the high school's guidance department.
"This is a relatively recent phenomenon because of the spiraling cost of four-year institutions," Jenkins said. "Parents have realized that we have an outstanding community college in Howard County and ... they can get their credits transferred easily to a top-notch college and have their first two years at a quarter of the cost."
It's happening across the county, Jenkins said. "And that number increases every year."
College costs might have gone up, but fortunately, district guidance counselors said, more students are applying for and receiving money to help pay for post-secondary school.
The total amount secured by Howard seniors has not been tabulated, Caplan said, but students at Centennial High School were offered more than $3 million in scholarships, grants and other awards. Students at Howard and Atholton high schools were offered more than $2 million per school.
"That's really a lot for us because it's only a class of like 250 students," said Howard 12th-grade guidance counselor Sonya Sutter. Howard, which graduated students Friday, usually has graduating classes of 300 or more, she said.
The majority of the scholarship winners will be attending schools near home, guidance counselors said. University of Maryland, College Park is the biggest draw.
In addition to the various University of Maryland campuses, St. Mary's College of Maryland, Towson and Salisbury State universities, Howard County graduates also will be attending prestigious colleges such as Dartmouth, Stanford, Princeton, Juilliard, Rutgers, Boston University, Johns Hopkins, the universities of Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Oberlin, Smith and Rice.
"It really came down to a lot of tough decisions for the kids because they had a lot of nice offers," Sutter said.