Savannah Miller and her 32 fellow seniors have completed four years of rigorous study in the Global Studies/International Baccalaureate diploma magnet program at Edgewood High School, but there were times when Savannah was ready to throw in the towel.
"Somehow, I made it through," Savannah, 17, of Abingdon, said after a short graduation ceremony Wednesday night for the IB seniors and their families.
She completed her coursework and earned a $500 scholarship, provided by the IB program, that was presented to her during Wednesday's ceremony in the EHS auditorium.
Amy Woolf, the IB program specialist, read part of the essay Savannah submitted for the contest for the scholarship.
Savannah wrote about her academic struggles during her junior year.
"By October of junior year, I was ready to become an IB dropout," she wrote. "I spent a lot of nights crying and believing that I wasn't cut out for the program. It seemed like my life would be so much easier if I didn't continue on."
Savannah also wrote about times during her senior year "when I still found myself staring at a computer screen wondering why I chose this path."
She persevered, however, and celebrated Wednesday with her classmates and family.
"I don't like to give up on things ... I just had to finish this one challenge that was in my way," she said after the ceremony.
Savannah will study film and media arts at American University in Washington, D.C.
"It just increased my work ethic, and I feel like it's going to make college a lot easier," she said of the IB program.
The International Baccalaureate diploma program at Edgewood is a magnet program open to high school students throughout Harford County.
The diploma program is available at schools throughout the U.S. and the world. It was established in 1968 at the International School of Geneva in Switzerland, and it is designed to "provide students with a balanced education, to facilitate geographic and cultural mobility and to promote international understanding," according to the program website.
To earn a diploma, students must complete courses in subjects such as math, science, foreign language, history, geography, world religions, health and fine arts, according to a course listing posted on the Harford County Public Schools website.
In addition to the standard coursework, they also complete the Theory of Knowledge section, which involves giving an oral report and writing a 1,600-word essay on "the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know," the Creativity, Activity, Service section, for which students must plan and lead a community service project, and the Extended Essay, according to the IB website.
Diploma candidates write a 4,000-word essay on a topic of their choosing, which they have researched independently.
"I wanted to be really well rounded," senior Timothy Blackman, 18, of Abingdon, said when asked why he applied for the magnet program.
Timothy wants to be an aerospace engineer, and he thought IB would help him improve his communication skills so he could be "that well-rounded engineer."
He will attend the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., which Blackman noted is not far from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, NASA's primary launch site for space shuttles and rockets.
He and his classmate, Lindsay Weinstein, gave Woolf a scrapbook filled with photos and quotes from the seniors as a surprise gift toward the end of the ceremony.
Siblings come back
Five graduates of the IB program, who have siblings graduating this year – Morgan Levush and Marisa Russell, of the Class of 2013, and Daniel Gorski, Lance Del Rosario and Jacob Weinstein, of the Class of 2014 – placed IB stoles on each graduate, while Edgewood's principal, Larissa Santos, gave out certificates.
Several pairs of siblings hugged and posed for pictures on stage when the graduates came forward to accept their stoles.
Russell, 20, who is a senior studying journalism at Hofstra University outside of New York City, was a key supporter when her younger sister, Kristina, 18, was going through the IB program.
"I just told her to take it one step at a time, and it's hard and it's tiring, but I did it and I knew she could, too," Russell said after the ceremony.
Kristina, a Forest Hill resident, will study physical therapy at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania.
"I learned that I can do a lot more than I thought I could, and I learned a lot of time management skills through it," she said of the IB program.
Senior Jordan Levush, 18, of Abingdon, got a hug from her sister, Morgan, on stage. Jordan said she enjoyed "everything, and more" about the magnet program.
"I just feel like I'm really prepared for college, not even just for college, but for the world and whatever I plan to do," she said.
Jordan said her older sister helped her with preparing her class presentations. She will study electronic media and film at Towson University.
Jordan applied for IB because of the academic challenge.
"I wasn't challenged in my middle and elementary school," she said. "I would get by, getting all A's all the time, and that was boring."
Jordan said IB "starts off easy, and then it gets really difficult, but it's worth it."
The seniors heard words of inspiration from their principal, Harford County Board of Education member Rachel Gauthier, County Councilman Mike Perrone and Woolf, the IB program specialist.
"You are the best and brightest of what we have, and we put a lot of faith in you," Gauthier told the seniors.