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Washington County grads collect diplomas

June 13, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART and TERRY TALBERTs

North Hagerstown High School's graduation ceremonies hit an emotional high Friday when Mark Schneider - battling the crippling effects of a brain aneurysm - walked across the stage to get his diploma.

Schneider slowly inched a wheeled walker across the school's stage as his classmates cheered.

The applause intensified as Schneider reached Board of Education member Doris J. Nipps, who hugged Schneider and gave him his diploma.

"I have been looking forward to this for a long, long time," the 18-year-old graduate said.

With physical help from older brother, Scott, and moral support from younger brother and fellow 1998 graduate, Eric, Mark has been working toward his goal of walking across the stage to get his diploma.

Schneider was 11 years old when a blood vessel ruptured in his brain, putting him in a coma for five weeks and leaving him paralyzed and unable to speak.

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Since then, Schneider has endured seven years of multiple surgeries and intense physical therapy to battle his condition.

Schneider was one of 189 North Hagerstown High School graduates to receive diplomas.

Williamsport, Hancock, Boonsboro, Smithsburg and South Hagerstown high schools also held commencement exercises Friday. In a packed school gymnasium, 163 members of South Hagerstown's Class of 1998 received their diplomas from Washington County Board of Education member Andrew R. Humphreys.

Before the pomp and circumstance began, the scene inside the school was one of both chaos and calm reflection. Some students donned their caps and gowns on the run while others, already dressed, stood alone or talked quietly in small groups.

"I'm a little nervous and anxious," said South High graduate Shawn Baker, who said he plans to go to Hagerstown Community College to study criminology. "By the time I'm 21 I should be a state trooper."

For South Hagerstown graduate Autumn Patterson, the day was very special. "I'm the first one in my whole family to do this," she said. Patterson, who has a 2-year-old son, said her mother helped make her graduation possible by babysitting for her.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, was the speaker at North Hagerstown's graduation. Although now a state leader, Poole told graduates he was not valedictorian, not in the honor society and was "no star athlete" when he attended North High.

Poole told students that no matter what has happened in their life so far, they have a fresh start.

"Today, you start at the free-throw line, and you get a new ball," said Poole, who runs a law office in town.

Poole said among the problems he helps people deal with at his office, the most troublesome are drugs, alcohol abuse, excessive debt and unwanted pregnancy.

Poole repeated the list to make sure graduates heard it.

If graduates avoid those pitfalls, they will be far better off, Poole said.

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