CHESAPEAKE CITY — For the 157 graduates in the Bohemia Manor High School Class of 2019, Friday's commencement ceremony was a time to give thanks to those who helped support their journeys.
Class of 2019 President Alex Longeway took inspiration from Chesapeake City's iconic bridge over the C&D Canal, which for many of the graduates has been a mainstay in their daily school life — unless they were Cecilton residents, he quipped — but also a metaphor for their lives.
"We're going to pass over many bridges in our lives: physical bridges because we live in Cecil County and metaphorical bridges," he said, explaining that graduation was the first bridge from childhood to adulthood.
Longeway credited parents and guardians for laying the foundation for the graduates' bridge, while teachers and administrators laid the roads; friends, extended families and coaches built the guardrails and the graduates themselves had to travel over the span.
"Everyone here today experienced times of self doubt, stress, heartache and loss, yet we all persevered and realized every experience we've had as an individual and as a class has shaped us into what we are today," he said. "We won't take for granted crossing this bridge and we'll always be reminded who built it, the places we've been and the experiences we've had because of those bridge builders."
Overseeing the graduation ceremony was acting Principal Jennifer Shaw, who took over midyear after her predecessor Wanita Fleury left for a promotion in Florida. Shaw herself had only relocated to the county about a year ago, but said she already felt very much a part of the Bo Manor community.
"Being part of a community feels good, like a warm blanket, and that you fit in," she said, thanking the community for welcoming her and persevering through changes.
Next year, Justin Zimmerman will move over from Perryville High School to become principal of both Bohemia Manor middle and high schools under a new plan.
Salutatorian Kathleen Koerner, who earned a 4.875 GPA and will attend University of Maryland Baltimore County in the fall, confessed that she too wasn't sure if she knew what her path after high school would be.
"After spending time in AP classes and a few regular courses, among all different types of students, I can firmly say that everyone here is going to be just fine in life and that everyone deserves to be here," she said. "I want to tell everyone here with me that it's OK to be unsure."
In a unique twist to the typical commencement ceremony procedure, Bo Manor had two valedictorians — who were identical twin sisters. Abigail and Aubrey Heath both earned a GPA of 4.968, with the former set to attend University of Maryland and the latter Wake Forest University, although both plan to major in biology and minor in Spanish.
Abigail thanked her supportive sister, Aubrey, who pushed her to excel and celebrated her successes along with her.
"Being an identical twin is a very unique experience that not many people get to have, and sadly for most of you it's too late," she said with a smile, drawing laughs. "I'm thankful for someone who set such a high bar, who held me accountable and who took genuine joy in my accomplishments. In Aubrey's and I's example, my hope for you is that you be blessed with friends who can do the same in your life."
Aubrey remarked on the advice she wanted and the advice she was given instead as graduation neared.
"When I complained about all the work I had to do, and I so badly wanted to hear, 'Put that off until tomorrow, there will always be time to do that,' I was told, 'Everyone pays a price in life, and those who pay it early usually pay less,'" she said. "It's never too early to invest in yourself and put in the work to pursue your goals. The truth is: the sooner you start, the sooner you'll be to the finish line."
For the valedictorians' parents, Diane and Paul Heath, of the Warwick area, it was a day that filled them with an immense amount of pride.
"I'm really proud of them, they worked hard and they really cared," Paul said. "It's tough to see your kids grow up and graduate, but I'm really grateful to see them achieve something that they worked hard for. Ultimately that's the goal of parenting: you put the work in to put them in a situation where they don't need you. I look at them now, and they're on their way."
Diane agreed, adding, "More than anything I'm so proud of the people that they are."
Both Paul and Diane were quick to deflect credit of their children's success though, noting it really does take a village to raise a child.
"It's not just us, you see a lot of people played a part in their lives too. We have a really special community and we're really grateful for the people who built into their lives," Paul said.
With the Heath twins, the middle children of four, heading off to college in the fall though, Diane recognized that life at home was going to be very different soon.
"It's definitely hard to see them go off and realize that the house is going to be quite a bit quieter," she said.
Meanwhile, Lawrence Wright, from New Castle, Del., said he was thrilled to watch his granddaughter Laila Wright, who anticipates attending Cecil College in the future, get her diploma. Joining in the celebration were Laila's brothers, aunts and cousins.
"It's a wonderful experience to watch her graduate," he said, explaining Laila was the third of his four grandchildren. "It's exciting to see young people graduate from school, because there are so many who do not. It's wonderful to see them get their education and move on to the next level."
Matthew Reynolds was celebrating with his family Friday, including his parents Krystal and Vince Reynolds, of Chesapeake City.
"I'm ready to get away from school for a little bit," said Matthew, who also earned a certified nursing assistant license after completing the Cecil County School of Technology's nursing program.
For his parents, watching Matthew, their oldest of four children graduate, was a bit of a whirlwind experience, they said. It was also a bit of coming full circle for the family though, as Vince was a Bo Manor High graduate in the Class of 2001 while Krystal graduated in the Class of 2002.
"This is a great school and a great community," Vince said. ""It's emotional seeing that full journey from the beginning to now. It's scary but exciting at the same time."