NORTH EAST — Dana Adams was dealing with a whirlwind of emotions Friday night as she waited for her 18-year-old daughter, Karley McIlhatton, and approximately 225 other members of the Class of 2019 to parade into the packed North East High School football stadium to "Pomp and Circumstances."
Starting in August, McIlhatton, who is Adams' first child, will attend McDaniel College in Westminster to study biology as a pre-med major.
So Friday night's graduation ceremony served as a demarcation of sorts between her daughter's childhood, now gone, and adulthood stretching out before her.
"Excitement and dread, that's what I feel. My first child is leaving home, so I'm dreading that. She's spreading her wings and flying and that's good," Adams said, before quickly qualifying, "But mostly what I feel is a lot of pride for her. I'm so proud of her."
Pride, it seemed, was prevalent throughout NEHS's 118th commencement ceremony.
"As I stand before you, one phrase seems to ring more true than others, 'We did it!'" Kylie Alexander, senior class president, said from the podium. "For the past 12 years of our lives it has all worked up to this very moment. Moments like these come once in an lifetime, so take a moment, look around at all of the people who made it possible."
Alexander then looked toward the future, after referencing German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, quoting, "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion."
"That being said, I encourage each and every one of you to walk into this next chapter of your life, pursuing something you're passionate about, no matter what it might be. Life is what you make it, so make it something that you're proud to call your own," Alexander urged her fellow graduates.
The salutatorian, Sarah Ann Beitler, who earned a weighted 4.766 GPA, commented on how she and her classmates had matured due to their high school experiences during the past four years and expressed excitement over the prospect of continued growth in the years to come, as the members of NEHS's Class of 2019 head in different directions and pursue different goals.
"A concept I would like to give the Class of 2019 is the race is not over. In a metaphorical way of thinking, we are all running a marathon (and) we just finished the 5K ... During any race, you are going to have your ups and downs, it's just how you manage those downs that makes you a better runner ... As long as you keep moving, you will always make it to your goal, the finish line," Beitler said.
The valedictorian, Niya Duffy Khanjar, who earned a weighted 4.919 GPA, also reflected on the past four years at NEHS.
"Looking back to those first couple days, graduation seemed impossibly far off, and yet here we are today, in what feels like a blink of an eye. In the words of C.S. Lewis, 'Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different'," Khanjar said.
Khanjar urged her fellow graduates to savor life.
"I encourage you to remember how quickly times passes. Take time to be with your family. Take time for yourself. Take time to enjoy the opportunities presented to you. But also take time to study extra for the class you struggle in. Take time to make the right decision even if it is a hard decision. Take time to do hard work so your future is one you're excited about," Khanjar said.
NEHS Principal David Dollenger listed an array of accomplishments made by members of the Class of 2019, asking graduates to stand, each time, if a particular one he mentioned applied, and groups rose every time.
"These are only some of the accomplishments that you have earned on your journey so far. They indicate that you are well prepared for the next stage of life ... In a blink of an eye, you will tackle new challenges, be it in your continued education, careers or the military," Dollenger said, commenting later in his speech, "So cherish today and let the fellowship of our fellow classmates, friends and family strengthen your resolve for what is to come."
Before presenting the diplomas to the graduates, Diana Hawley, a Cecil County Board of Education member, also imparted some words of wisdom the Class of 2019.
"Life is really a circle of mistakes. Ideally, you make a mistake, own it and repair. The trick is that you don't repeat that same mistake. You just make new mistakes ... The reason why you make a lot of mistakes is because you are doing a lot of work — you have more opportunities to do it. The only time you truly fail is when you stop trying. The point is that you have to take risks — but you want to be smart about it ... If you win, you'll be proud. If you fail, please always let that failure help make you wise," Hawley told the graduates.