The Havre de Grace High School Class of 2018 is a family — made up of about 150 members — that has been together since childhood and will take the strength of those bonds forged in the tight-knit HHS community into the adult world, according to its class president.
“The nature of Havre de Grace [High School] has provided us with the ability to deal with anything,” senior class president James Bay Wettig said in his introductory remarks, delivered during the 131st annual commencement Thursday evening.
“We have also learned that whatever the universe throws at us, we can handle it together,” he continued.
The graduation ceremony was in the school auditorium, where the roof suffered severe damage nearly three months ago in the windstorm that hit throughout Harford County.
“Warrior family, it is so nice to have a graduation that does not require umbrellas,” Wettig joked.
Principal James Reynolds lauded the class’ accomplishments, such as earning an estimated $3.2 million in scholarships. He also asked individual seniors to stand and be recognized, including Kyle Cameron, who has committed to serve in the Army.
The recognition of Cameron elicited a full-throated cheer and applause from the audience.
Wettig said many graduates have known each other since childhood, whether through recreation league football, elementary school band practice or having parents who are HHS alumni.
“Growing up in this community has forged strong bonds between each us, bonds that make us more than classmates — it makes us family,” he said.
Literal family bonds were evident during the ceremony, too. Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin, one of the graduation speakers, said his son, Devon, is part of the Class of 2018.
Martin remarked on how he knows so many of the graduates, going back to when they were in day care.
“I feel like this is a family graduating right here, not just my son, but a lot of you,” the mayor said.
Sara Crawford received her diploma from her mother and the school’s athletic director, Heather Crawford. Assistant principal Brad Spence gave Wettig his diploma.
Spence later said he and Wettig are cousins, and they grew up together. Spence noted Thursday was the 20th anniversary of when he graduated from Havre de Grace in 1998.
“Having the opportunity to hand him his diploma in front of his family is the best thing that could ever happen,” Spence said.
The Havre de Grace Choir performed “The Road Home,” by Stephen Paulus, which director David Tramontana said has become a tradition at HHS graduations.
“We heard a lot of people talking about home,” he said. “I feel very strongly that Havre de Grace is one of the most important homes these kids will ever have.”
Valedictorian Rebecca Pritt was the commencement speaker. She talked about how she has grown over four years at Havre de Grace High.
“Anyone who knew me freshman year knows, I could barely give a presentation to a class of 10 people,” she said. “I would have never guessed that I could speak in front of 1,000.”
Pritt said she has learned “everlasting” life lessons growing up in the Havre de Grace community, that “our town is very special, and our schools are no exception.”
“If and when you decide to move away, keep Havre de Grace in your heart and remember the little high school you graduated from, with all your close friends and family right there beside you,” she said.
Graduate Prince Cozart, 17, attended HHS during his junior and senior years after his family moved to Havre de Grace. He had lived in Baltimore City and Edgewood, attending Edgewood Middle School and then Edgewood High School for his freshman and sophomore years.
“There is a lot more solidarity and the essence of family that you won’t find anywhere else but in a small town like Havre de Grace,” he said after the commencement.
Cozart, who played football and was on the track and field team for the Warriors, plans to study electrical engineering at Essex Community College in Baltimore County.
“This school has been wonderful,” Tanya Cozart said of her son’s experience. “It brought him out of his shell; the intimate setting was just what he needed.”
His father, Shaun Cozart, invoked a saying: “At the top of every mountain you will find yourself at the base of another.”
“You always have to keep going,” Cozart said. “[Graduation] is just the next level for him.”
Allison Frick, 18, said she plans to study respiratory therapy at Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore.
“It’s nice to know that hard work pays off, and graduating with friends that I’ve grown up with is an amazing feeling and I’m proud of them,” she said.
Frick said the small community of Havre de Grace “offers diversity and love, which is a great basis for a strong, successful future.”
Her mother, Debbie Frick, said she is “just a very proud mom” of her daughter, the youngest of two children, “and I’m very proud of all the 2018 graduates.”
New school on the horizon
Guest speaker Thomas Fitzpatrick, who represents the Havre de Grace area on the Harford County Board of Education, said “ a new building is beginning to rise out of the ground” just a few hundred yards away.
He was referring to the new Havre de Grace Middle/High School, a nearly $100 million project that will replace the city’s existing middle and high schools. It is scheduled to open for the 2020-2021 school year — not in time for the Class of 2018, as noted by their president.
Local officials celebrated the start of construction earlier this spring.
“It is the culmination of many dreams,” Fitzpatrick said.
He praised everyone in the audience who had a part in bringing the project to fruition, from elected officials to concerned parents and citizens.
He said people who worked as boosters, attended school board or Harford County Council meetings, “or simply bought or wore a ‘Warrior Pride’ T-shirt, you helped make that dream come true.”
Most high school graduations have been held at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College, which has a seating capacity of up to 3,200.
Reynolds, the principal, said HHS’ graduation has remained at the school auditorium. With a capacity of 999 and a class of about 150 on stage, the facility “works for us,” he said.
“It works well for us, and hopefully we can keep [commencement] here even when the new school comes in,” Reynolds said.