John Ransier, a member of the North Harford High School graduating Class of 2018, persevered through significant academic challenges to make it to Wednesday night’s commencement ceremony.
The 20-year-old Street resident posed proudly with his fiance, Kara Novak, of Street, for pictures after the evening ceremony, held in the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College.
He wore a green cap and gown — female graduates in the 280-member class wore gold caps and gowns — and held his diploma.
“I can’t believe I made it here, right now,” Ransier said. “I spent a lot of time in high school and I finally made it.”
He gave his 20-year-old fiance, a 2016 graduate of North Harford, much of the credit.
Novak said she has known Ransier since eighth grade. They plan to get married in 2020.
“He had the determination and the motivation [to graduate], and I couldn’t be prouder of him, and I’m very happy at this moment,” she said.
Ransier said he plans to work at the Packaging Corporation of America facility in Lancaster, Pa.
David Etzel, of Jarrettsville, lauded his daughter, Emily, for keeping up with her work, even when an ankle injury kept her out of school for a month during her junior year.
“It was great to see her stay on track and graduate today,” Etzel said. “She still kept her grades up and got into a good college.”
Emily Etzel, 18, said she plans to study nursing at the University of South Carolina, at its flagship campus in the state capital of Columbia.
“It was nice seeing all my classmates graduate and sharing this accomplishment,” she said. “Everyone here [at North Harford] is really welcoming and kind, and I know this is always a place I can come back to.”
Tim Hopkins, 18, of Pylesville, plans to work in landscaping and possibly volunteer with the Whiteford Volunteer Fire Company.
“I’m glad it’s over,” he said of high school.
He was in the school’s Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences magnet program.
“I learned a lot there,” he said.
Hopkins said he wants to run his own landscaping business or become a paid firefighter.
He is the son of Derek and Katrina Hopkins, both 1995 graduates of North Harford. Derek Hopkins is the register of wills for Harford County.
He called his alma mater “such an amazing school.”
“North Harford has so much to offer students across the county, not just in the home area,” Tim Hopkins said. “The educators are amazing; they really take the time to help every student.”
Sara Fernandez, the class valedictorian, said her classmates have made it through four years of high school, with challenges such as testing and difficult decisions about what to do after graduation.
“High school can be a rough four years and it probably will not be the roughest of our lives,” she said. “However, this arena is full of bright people, and each and every one of you has the ability to get through whatever difficulties you may face later in life.”
Fernandez noted accomplishments such as the school’s second consecutive first-place win of the Harford County Envirothon this year, putting on the musical “South Pacific,” earning multiple awards and recognitions, plus supporting the community with donations of blood, toiletries, collecting canned goods and sponsoring families in need.
“This class is well on their way to becoming great citizens of the world,” she said.
Fernandez said success is “a relative term,” defined by “each of our individual goals and challenges these goals represent.”
“I believe it would go unchallenged to say that a truly successful person is defined as one of integrity, humility and dedication,” she said. “I am proud to be part of such a successful group of graduates; it is time for us to be in charge of our lives.”
Senior class president Jessica Carnivale delivered the welcoming remarks, and class vice president Bethany Birchfield led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The class also heard from local appointed and elected officials.
County Councilman Chad Shrodes, who represents northern Harford and graduated from NHHS 26 years ago, used the school’s mascot, the hawk, as an allegory for graduation.
“In order to fly, a young hawk must step away from the branch and leave what is known and comfortable in order to realize the rapture of its first flight,” he said. “You must be willing to step away from your comfort zone and then try new things in order to soar.”
State Del. Rick Impallaria said the ongoing opioid crisis in Harford County is “the biggest threat that your generation faces.”
“You must attack it head on,” he said to cheers and applause from the stands. “You must not let it beat you or take any more of your friends.”
There have been 160 suspected overdoses, 38 of them fatal, so far this year, according to Harford County Sheriff’s Office statistics.
“Be true to yourself, let nothing take control of your mind, and always believe in God, always be strong,” Impallaria told the graduates.