Members of the Bel Air High School Class of 2018 are all artists, and as of last Thursday, they are starting with a clean canvas.
More than 425 students graduated at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena, ready to begin painting.
“We have a blank canvas that is our life,” Elizabeth Hillman told her classmates. “We are the only ones who can paint it however we choose to. Each canvas will be unique in its own way… We should give it everything we have while we’re painting them.”
Along the way, she and her classmates will fail — everyone does, she said. When they do, they have to dust themselves off and start again.
“You may have to discard your canvas, only to recreate something more beautiful,” she said.
Hillman thanked her classmates for being part of her life and helping her paint her message to them.
“I look forward to seeing all the beautiful paintings you will make throughout your lives,” Hillman said.
Duyen Thanh-Nguyen Bui said she knows her classmates “have what it takes” for whatever lies ahead, the unknown, whether it be at boot camp, a full-time job or higher education.
“What does the unknown look like? To us graduates, it looks like independence and freedom,” Bui said. “To everyone else, you know it’s a lot more than that.”
How does she know they’ll succeed? Because their teachers made sure of it, not only providing lessons in math, science and English or other activities, but also giving them life skills, like thinking logically, standing up for what they believe in and that hard work pays off.
“Most of all, they taught us to be kind, responsible human beings, and there’s no way we can continue on this journey without that lesson,” Bui said. “Take your skills, the support of those around you and use it to propel yourself forward. Whatever is out there waiting, you can handle it.”
On behalf of the Class of 2018, Senior Class President Josh Murrell presented the school with new picnic tables to be used in the courtyard, replacing the ones beginning to show their age with larger tables made of composite wood.
He encouraged his classmates not to be afraid of failure. Their first 13 years of school have been one long interval of winning and failing, he said.
“If not for the moments of failure, our legacy of victory would be unattainable,” Murrell said.
He listed the qualities of a winner — one who dares, who is determined and is willing to do the dirty work, and one who will fail, “time and time again.”
“Yet they persevere through the challenges of life, devoting themselves to a cause,” he said.
The Class of 2018 has succeeded in many ways — on the field, in the classroom, on the stage and in the community, he said.
“And each and every one of us wins today by reaching this milestone,” Murrell said. “No defeat has been too severe to hinder our ability to win. It will make our victories even sweeter. The same will hold true in the world you are about to enter. Whatever your goals are, there is no obstacle too big or challenge too hard to stop us. Whatever your next challenge is, attack it. Attack it the way you’ve attacked the last 13 years.
From one Bobcat to another, Harford County Councilman James McMahan said he remembered “sitting where you’re sitting” 62 years ago.
“I see some of you doing the math… ‘he must be 80,’” McMahan said. “Yeah, and I’ve had a heck of a ride.”
He told the members of the Class of 2018 the future is theirs to create.
“I want you to take what you learned in the last 12 years, and I want you to put it to good use, because your great-grandpa is depending upon you,” he said.
McMahan called out when he asked students planning to serve their country to stand. About 15 boys and girls stood.
He introduced them to his special guests, “heroes,” he called them, asking all veterans to join the students standing.
“I want you to take a good look around,” McMahan told the veterans, “because these are the recruits of our next group of heroes.”
Graduates Josh Munley, Connor Lorenz and Will Anglada found it hard to believe they were finished with high school.
“It’s a little bit of disbelief. I can’t believe it’s over,” Munley said standing outside the arena after the ceremony, as rain began to fall. “But at the same time, I’m looking forward to the future and what’s going to happen.”
Munley said he’s unsure what he would like to study, so he’s going to start at Harford Community College to save money, then transfer somewhere he hasn’t decided on yet.
Lorenz, who will be going to Randolph Macon College in Virginia, said he’s looking forward to his future education and athletic career. While he hasn’t decided exactly what he wants to do, he thinks it will be something in the business field.
His four years at Bel Air High School have been strenuous, Anglada said.
“It was worth the effort and everything is done,” he said. “All the people who helped me, it really paid off.
Anglada is planning to attend Roanoke College in Virginia, possibly studying science technology.
Gabby Spires said high school has been great, but she can’t wait to go to college.
“I’ve made a lot of good friends,” she said, but she’s excited to start at the University of South Carolina in the fall to study exercise science.
She chose University of South Carolina to get “far away,” she said.
Her friend Matthew Billing intends to enlist in the Army, he said. He hopes to be a combat medic to help him pursue a career as a firefighter, paramedic or both.
That he has graduated may set in Friday morning, when he doesn’t have to wake up and go to school, Billing said.
“It really doesn’t feel like I graduated yet, but it feels good,” he said.