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Walkersville Graduation 2017 Filled with Music, Laughter and Tears

by Sarah Grace McElwain

photos by Molly Lewing

On the afternoon of Thursday, June 1 2017, the Walkersville High School senior class of 2017 officially became graduated. The graduation ceremonies were held in Knott Arena, on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD.

Before the ceremony, emotions were running high among students and teachers alike. Graduates convened in the John J. Dillon Field House, located inside the Knott Athletic Recreation Convocation Complex, where many pictures were taken and graduates adjusted their caps and gowns to prepare for the commencement of the ceremony.

A SnapChat story was also created for anyone attending the ceremony to share pictures and videos from the event. They were made available to any SnapChat user attending the graduation.

Some seniors were very nervous, waiting in anticipation for the big event that took so much effort to organize. “It’s nerve-racking because a row of people sits down on my name so if I mess up everything gets messed up,” said senior Emilie Ralph.

Others had spent a hectic day preparing, and were anxious about it all playing out just right. “I’m very nervous and really hungry,” laughed senior Emma Lochner. “I just have to breathe so I don’t faint.”

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” said senior Molly Thebau. “I will probably be nervous as we walk down when the ceremony begins; I don’t want to trip.”

These final moments spent before the ceremony were also times of looking back and reflecting on the past four years. “It’s strange seeing everyone in graduation caps and gowns because these are people you saw everyday and then ‘bam’ it’s over,” said senior Brayden Shorrow.

The faculty and staff of WHS anticipated the event with high expectations and excitement for their, now former, students. “I always look forward to seeing the kids graduate,” said Social Studies teacher Paul Daly. “I remember my graduation and how big of a deal it was to me and I look forward to seeing the kids’ faces as they move on to the next phase in their life.”

Doors to the complex opened to attendees at 1:15, with a line of families and friends waiting to take their seats.

With the stage adorned with blue and gold and the infamous ‘Lion Eyes’ on display on the big screen, the seniors entered the arena to “Pomp and Circumstance,” played by the WHS Band.

Senior executive board member Rylee Duncan welcomed the senior class and the attendees. Duncan then introduced the ensemble who would be performing the National Anthem.

Seniors Caylee Winpigler, Ishara Joseph and Ioana Draghici, on the violin, Jessica Handwerk, on the viola, and Noni Hill, on the cello, performed a beautiful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, arranged by music teacher Lucas Hogan. American Sign Language interpretation was provided by senior Cody Strange.

Principal Tracey Franklin then introduced honored guests Theresa Alban, Superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS), Michael Markoe, Deputy Superintendent of FCPS, Ken Kerr, member of the Board of Education, Eva Miller, Brad Leon, and English teacher John Van Bloem.

Assistant Principals Sheri Murphy, Greg Keller, and Cindy Johnson were recognized as well as visiting administrators from Walkersville Middle School, Walkersville and New Midway/Woodsboro Elementary Schools, and the Frederick Career and Technology Center (CTC).

Kerr was the first speaker of the afternoon, sending the class congratulations from the Board of Education. “This day is all about you. You showed up, you put in the work, you met expectations, and you persisted,” said Kerr. “These are all qualities that lead to success.”

Alban followed Kerr, reminiscing on the growth of the seniors that led them to today’s graduation. “It has taken many years to earn the right to cross this stage today,” said Alban. “I am sure there are many parents wondering how those years passed so quickly and teachers remembering those timid freshmen who grew into fine young adults that are here today.”

Alban continued by reading many of the seniors comments on what they will miss most about WHS and what they have learned over the years. Below are the quotes, read by Alban, from seniors on what they will miss the most about WHS:

“Being at Walkersville, as small as it is, has made it easy for our class to become close. I will miss the sense of being in such a close community once I leave Walkersville,” wrote senior Donovan Key.

“I’m going to miss all of the teachers because they are just amazing at what they do. The same goes for everyone who works here [WHS], wanting all of us to go on and do great things with our lives,” wrote senior Kalil Ricketts.

“I will miss the familiarity I have among my classmates and surroundings. The many memories we have made together lead to a lot of great joke material. The classmates here know each other so well that our shared experiences, which have taken time to build, will not be so easily forgotten,” wrote senior Winpigler.

“I will miss the sense of family, not only in our school but our community as a whole. I can count on any student, staff member, coach, or neighbor for help. During big events, such as our football state run, we all came together as one to celebrate our school,” wrote senior Megan Wells.

Alban continued to read quotes from students on how they thought WHS has prepared them for the future. Below are these quotes.

“I feel prepared due to the time management skills I have learned. Walkersville is a community that will encourage following your passions while still being successful in the classroom. Being involved in rigorous classes as well as extracurricular activities has helped me greatly in learning how to manage my time and use it wisely,” wrote senior Rachel Wilson.

“Walkersville has prepared me for life after high school by challenging me academically, athletically, and socially. I’ve pushed myself to take difficult classes and to push myself to excel in athletics. WHS provided a platform to do so. In addition, I have been exposed to many service opportunities through NHS/Key Club which has helped me grow as a person,” wrote senior Kyle Daggett.

“Walkersville High School has prepared me for adulthood, college, and for years to come. As I came closer and closer to graduation, teachers and administration began to treat me as an adult. They stopped holding my hand, as if I was still in middle school, and taught me to be more self-reliant, but at the same time, I knew the administration would be there if I needed them,” wrote senior Josh Clegg.

“Walkersville has prepared me for the future by giving me a glimpse of what college classes are like. I think FCC Dual-Enrollment classes are fantastic and the center we have is great. I had the opportunity to see how big those classes would be, learn what the schedule is like, and lots more. Additionally, I’m starting college with a semester of general education courses done,” wrote senior Maddie Hommey.

“Walkersville High School has prepared me to pursue a career through the support of all of the teachers and other staff members. As a high schooler, I had the opportunity to intern at Fort Detrick and research in a real lab. Not many of my peers will have done that in their high school careers. I am more than prepared through all the skills I have learned,” wrote senior Harshi Patel.

Senior and Class Officer Gracie Armogida then delivered a Farewell Address to her fellow classmates. “We have been in school together for many years; as a class we’ve shared joys, struggles, celebrations, laughs, and even tears. Through the success of our athletic teams, theater department, clubs, and academics, we have been through alot together,” said Armogida.

“The bonds we share will be remembered as we continue with the next chapters that we are starting today. Looking back, high school is full of mixed emotions; it can be wonderful, fun, and exciting, but it can also be scary and full of anxiety… The truth is, we are whatever we want to be. We stand here today, ready to go out into the world and make a name for ourselves.”

Franklin, the final speaker of the afternoon, delivered a heartfelt message to the graduating class. Before beginning her speech, she asked parents and guardians to stand for getting their children to where they are today.

She also had graduates planning on serving in the armed forces and active-duty, retired, or veteran members of the armed forces to stand and be recognized for their service to our country.

Franklin then took the podium, ready to deliver her final “Alpha Lion” speech to the senior class. Being that the class of 2017 began their high school careers the year Franklin began her career at Walkersville High, theirs is the first class that Franklin has seen through all four years of high school.

“I’m not sure how I’m going to say good-bye, or how I am going to say congratulations.  As principals, we struggle to create speeches as creative and unique as you are. How do we write a speech that sends you away, marked in history as individuals?” said Franklin. “The task is never an easy one, but I’m pretty confident, with the help of my 260 lion friends, we’re going to leave an impression that won’t be forgotten. Lions, it’s time to be heard.”   

Putting an interesting twist on the typical graduation speech normally made my principals, Franklin and the graduating class worked together to make her final message memorable. The class responded, “You are a Lion” throughout her speech, finally ending with the statement, “We are Walkersville.”

“When the final hat has been tossed and final congratulations shared, you will entail a sigh of relief and you will regress into what you will miss. It will hit you that the pride and family that you have shared your territory with will soon fade. Members of the pride will find new lands to lead and conquer,” said Franklin.

“The landscape of September skies of blue and gold will remain, but by those who follow you. Don’t worry; they too are grounded in traditions. They are proud in sharing your roots that you’ve left behind. It is your last impression and memorable feats that will challenge them to hold themselves accountable to maintain the strength of the pride.”

“Lions always find their way home,” said Franklin. “You are not just lions; you are family and we are Walkersville.”

With an emotional final good-bye from Franklin, senior Anthony DeVincentis performed a rendition of the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” originally recorded by John Denver. Modified, sung, and performed on guitar by DeVincentis himself, he moved the arena with his adjusted lyrics, reminiscent of the town of Walkersville.

Following the musical selection, Franklin had members of the WHS Faculty and Staff rise and be recognized; retired staff were also recognized. Franklin also announced the retirement of long-time faculty Math teacher of 28 years Kathy Stinefelt and Guidance Counselor of 36 years Debra Phebus, thanking them for their years of service.

Diplomas were then presented to all 260 graduates, names announced by Murphy. Graduates who achieved honors received their cord before collecting their diploma and posing for a picture with Franklin.

Graduates with Highest Honors (weighted 4.0 or higher GPA) received a gold cord, High Honors (weighted 3.75-3.99 GPA) received a white and gold cord, and Honors (weighted 3.5-3.74 GPA) received a blue and gold cord.

After all diplomas were presented and graduates took their seats, Franklin presented the Walkersville High School class of 2017. Caps were thrown and cheers were heard throughout the arena.

After the ceremony, attendees and graduates met outside the facility to take pictures and say goodbye to their teachers and friends. With a successful graduation commencement, the graduated class can now look forward to Safe and Sound.

Congratulations and good luck to all members of the Walkersville High School graduated Class of 2017. Our wish for you: May all your skies be Walkersville Blue!