ELKTON — As hundreds of family members and friends packed into the Elkton High School bleachers to cheer on the class of 2018 Friday night, Dorothy and Angelo Giafes had three times the reasons to celebrate.
The couple watched as their triplets – Angelo, Demetri and Maia – walked across the stage to accept their diplomas. The moment was exciting, Dorothy said, but also bittersweet as the triplets prepare to head off to college.
“We’ll go from having a full house to an empty house in August,” she said. “It will be a big change for us.”
It will be a change for the kids, too, as they plan to attend different schools for the first time in their academic careers – Frostburg State University for Angelo, Widener University for Demetri and Cedar Crest College for Maia.
Splitting up from his siblings “will take some adjustment,” Angelo admitted.
The Giafes were just three of the 230 Elkton seniors who received their diplomas during the ceremony on the football field.
"Today, we have crossed the finish line as high school students, but that doesn't mean we are done running,” Senior Class President Zakera Banks told her fellow graduates. “Our biggest race yet is real life."
Banks, who is headed to Salisbury University to study exercise science, credited her mother and her late brother with giving her the support she needed to achieve the milestone.
"To my mom, thank you for raising me and helping me become the independent woman I am today,” she said.
From the hushed bleachers, her mother’s voice rang out, “You’re welcome,” promoting chuckles from the crowd.
Salutatorian Allison Rogers, who plans to study architecture at Virginia Tech in the fall, noted that in high school, students all follow the same routine and schedule. Now, as they transition into adulthood, they get to follow their own paths.
"Imagine that every person in our graduating class fulfills their potential and how much of a difference we would make in our community, our country and our world,” Rogers said. “My challenge to you is to find something you're passionate about and find a way you can improve upon it."
Valedictorian Ganiyatu Olayide Ashiru joked that after looking forward to graduation since she was a kid, she recently came to the realization that she and her classmates worked 13 years “just to receive a handshake and a piece of paper."
“I refuse to believe that's it. I refuse to believe that all we walk away with after 13 years is a diploma,” Ashiru said. “I've met people and done things that will shape my future for the rest of my life. High school might be one of the most influential times of our lives because it's the time where we sit down and decide who we want to be."
She proudly noted that she was accepted to her dream school, Johns Hopkins University, where she plans to major in material science and engineering.
The world is more divided than ever, she said.
"For our future sons and daughters, we need change, and we are the people who will initiate that change,” she said. "The world is bigger than Elkton, and it’s up to us to conquer and make it our own.”
In the crowd, family members burst with excitement as they waited to see their graduate cross the stage.
“I’m so proud, I’ve got goose bumps,” said Robin Wesley, who was there to support her grandniece, Desiree’ Jones.
David Peterson, there to see his daughter Kayla Anne, shared similar feelings.
“That’s my last little girl,” he said. “She’s all grown up.”
For Joseph and Vicky Johnson, getting to watch their granddaughter, Delaney Green, graduate was important.
“They look for you to come,” Vicky said. “They want you to be there, regardless if they can see you.”
Green may not have been able to pick her grandparents out of the crowd, but she surely heard them, as Joseph brought an air horn to sound when her name was called.
Other families found creative ways to stand out as well. Rebekah Buggs stood along the fence line with a poster congratulating her son, Roland. Christine Hamilton and several other family members carried signs emblazoned with a photo of her son, Travias “Tas” Smith.
Tyler Burchett, though, found a way to outdo them all. A volunteer firefighter with Singerly Fire Company, Burchett drove in on a fire engine and parked near the football field shortly after the ceremony began. With the help of a friend, he hung a huge sign from the fire engine congratulating his sister Allison.
Their father, Robert, died last year and Tyler wanted to make sure his sister felt supported on her big day.
Allison couldn’t help but notice the gesture as she sat waiting to collect her diploma. When her name was called, Tyler sounded the fire engine's horn.
“I started smiling,” Allison recalled after the ceremony, as she posed for a picture in front of the fire engine while clutching a photo of her father, who was also a Singerly firefighter.