ELKTON — There were smiles and dances aplenty during the Elkton High School Class of 2016 commencement ceremony on Friday.

Indeed, the 266 graduates had plenty to celebrate after earning $2.9 million in combined scholarships as a class. Elkton High Principal John Roush also awarded Kayla Kirk with his annual Principal's Award for striving to challenge herself with the school's science, technology, engineering and mathematics program, softball team, marching band, orchestra and more.

Roush applauded the success of all his seniors in the classroom, on the athletic fields and in the community, but he also advised them to stay devoted to bettering themselves in the future.

“Until now, your education has been meticulously planned for you,” he said. “You generally knew what was going to be taught and how you would be assessed, so you could prove that you had learned something … But the funny thing about life is that there will no longer be daily objectives written on the board to guide you. Learning will become more difficult to quantify, and most real life tests are unannounced, especially tests involving your character, ethics and empathy for others.”

Roush also suggested that the graduates absorb the thoughts of others, even those with whom they don't agree.

“Lessons will come disguised as opinions, sometimes from people who you aren't particularly interested in listening to,” he said. “Listen especially carefully to those unsolicited and unscripted opinions as they will help you develop and define your belief system.”

Class salutatorian Zainab Hayat, who earned a 4.963 weighted GPA and will attend University of Maryland College Park in the fall, reminisced about how a class of awkward freshman grew into confident seniors.

“We're caught in that awkward moment between joy and nostalgia of our memories and the excitement of our future,” she said. “We've all been patiently waiting for this day for four years, and now suddenly we want to press pause. We want to slow it down to appreciate these last fleeting moments, because once we toss our caps into the air, there's no going back.”

Hayat also asked her classmates to reflect on the legacy of the recently deceased boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who gave up his titles in order to protest his conscription into the Vietnam War.

“While we may all have different beliefs, we should all try to embody his fighting spirit,” she said. “Like Ali, we should relentlessly pursue the version of ourselves that we want.”

Meanwhile, class valedictorian Christeen Fernando, who earned a 5.025 weighted GPA and will attend Towson University in the fall, began her address with a joke.

“Hello family, friends, honored guests, board office members and everyone else who assumed I was a foreign exchange student throughout high school,” she said. “Now you may think that because I'm up here, I must have valued my grades above all else, but in reality the most important thing I've learned in high school is to live in the moment and cherish the people in your life.”

Fernando urged her classmates to try to focus on “the stars rather than the dark night sky,” giving thanks for their blessings rather than cursing their headaches. She also regaled the wisdom of SpongeBob SquarePants, the popular cartoon character, who once quoted Dr. Seuss in saying, “You never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

On the visitor's side of the Elkton High football stadium, the Price family could easily be spotted wearing personalized pink T-shirts for their son, Clayton.

Lauri and William Price said they were proud to see Clayton, who has special needs, graduate, but a little sad that he will leave the school to begin working at Bayside Community Network in North East full time.

“I think Elkton High was fabulous,” said Lauri, who dropped Clayton off for school every day for years. “They did a great job with our son.”

Meanwhile, Matt Ruark was enjoying the celebration of the day with his daughter, Kristen.

“I proud and relieved,” he said of his middle child, who will attend West Virginia University in the fall to study psychology. “My youngest is in ninth grade here at Elkton High. We like it here. I'm a strong believer of the School of Technology program here, where Kristen took the cosmetology program. It kept her busy, focused and out of trouble. She really excelled.”

After the ceremony, Shareeda Nieves was celebrating the graduation of her son, Ky'air Cook, with a large collection of family members. Cook is set to attend University of Maryland Eastern Shore next fall, where he will play basketball and major in business management.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions right now,” she said of her second child to graduate. “It's bittersweet, because while he graduated, now he's going off to college.”

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