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(Enlarge) Joppatowne graduate Montez Fletcher flashes a great smile for the camera after getting his dilpoma from Robert Frisch, member of the Board of Education during Tuesday evening's commencement. (Matt Button | Aegis staff)

Joppatowne High School's class of 2011, the institution's latest batch of Mariners, celebrated the end of many years of formal education and the beginning of a new chapter in their lives with Tuesday evening's commencement ceremony.

The school planned to give diplomas to 187 students, one of whom, Shakir Derrick Wingate, would be receiving his posthumously.

Shakir, who was 16 and had just begun his senior year at JHS, was shot to death last Oct. 2. His body was found inside a vehicle parked in front of his home in one of the neighborhoods on the west side of Edgewood. An 18-year-old from the same neighborhood was charged with the killing,

Tuesday was the last time many of the new JHS grads were likely to see Macon Tucker, the longtime principal who was asked by the school superintendent not to return next school year and will be moving on to Patterson Mill High as an assistant principal.

During the ceremony, Tucker said he was reluctant to leave Joppatowne High.

“Although I do not want to leave, it is not my decision,” he told the audience, thanking the parents for the work they put into their children.

Speaking to the students, Tucker said, “All of you have been part of a race that has lasted 13 years, and tonight you will end in a dead heat. You will all cross the finish line…There are no losers tonight. Although this is the end of your formal education, it is also a new beginning.”

Several students said they appreciated the teachers they had at Joppatowne.

“My English teacher was amazing,” Gwen Albright, 17, said. “He's the reason I'm graduating.”

Gwen said she plans to join the Army when she turns 18 in October.

Standing just outside the school gym, she was also a bit antsy about the graduation itself.

“I'm nervous right now because I'm singing in the chorus,” she explained. “I don't want to trip on stage.”

Meanwhile, Kourtney Lewis-Orr, 17, a four-year basketball player, said she is looking forward to keeping up her sport at Harford Community College and eventually Towson University.

She said she has good memories of Joppatowne.

“I am going to miss it, definitely,” Kourtney said. “I think the teachers here did a very good job. Mr. Tucker is an amazing principal…I'm still sad to know he's leaving.”

Cody Pietro, 18, said he hopes to work for BGE and attend Lincoln Technical Institute.

About his high school experience, he said, “I am glad it's over with, but I am going to miss it… It's the start of a new life.”

Shawn Murphy, 17, plans to go to Harford Community College to study business.

“It was fun while it lasted,” he said about Joppatowne. “It was challenging at times, it was easy at times.”

Lynetta Edwards, 17, is also headed to HCC and said she wants to be an artist.

She was reflective about what graduation means, saying she thinks it could be a sign of things to come.

“It feels like it's a big step into life, but I just feel like you have to take bigger steps,” she said.

During the ceremony, valedictorian Cynthia Chinemerem Ezedike gave the students plenty of words of inspiration.

“You should all realize that the next phase in our lives is going to be difficult,” she said. “I choose to use my failures as steppingstones… I believe everyone here has the potential to be someone in the world, to achieve something remarkable.”

Harford state Del. Glen Glass gave a speech peppered with random jokes, and talked about how he overcame a lot of adversity to become a public school teacher and a politician.

“I never experienced what you did today. Your state delegate didn't finish high school,” Glass said, explaining he was raised by a single mother, was shot at twice and had been in more than a dozen car crashes by the time he was 18.

“I am lucky to be alive,” he said. “Even though bad things happen, life is good.”

County Councilman Dion Guthrie, a Joppatowne resident, asked students who took part in the school's homeland security program to stand up, and congratulated them.

Samantha Krystine Harris, president of the National Honor Society, also gave an address.

She said her classmates learned from each other and worked as a team even though they are all different.

“Even though we all took our separate paths, they all come together to this night, where we come together as one,” she said.

The choir also sang “When You Believe.”


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