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Adversity prepares graduates for life

June 12, 2004|By WANDA T. WILLIAMS

South Hagerstown High School's graduating class of 2004 will enter the world knowing that tough experiences early in life can paint the reality of what to expect in the real world.

The class witnessed the tragedy of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, principal Michael Shockey said. In February 2003, classmate Jean Ardell Johnson died of cancer.

At Friday's ceremony in the South High gymnasium, class salutatorian Adam Tyler Hockensmith told graduates he wasn't going to sugarcoat the reality of life.

"It's a day for celebration, but we must realize that we aren't kids anymore," Hockensmith said.

In his speech, he encouraged graduates to vote in the fall elections, avoid drug abuse and prepare for an aggressive job market.

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"A bachelor's degree in four years will be equal to a high school diploma," Hockensmith said. "May we all be blessed with the wisdom to make the right choices. We are the masters of our fate."

Inside the commencement program, a poem written by former classmate Jean A. Johnson offered similar words of advice. Titled "Don't Be a Follower, Be a Leader," the poem was taken from the book "Poetic Thoughts," a collection of Johnson's poems published by her family. In her memory, the class also established the Jean A. Johnson Memorial Scholarship, which awarded two $500 scholarships to seniors Holly Marie Elder and Erin Renee Muritz.

"I'm really honored. It makes me feel like I'm carrying her memory on like a part of her family," Elder said.

As the scholarship stipulates, Elder and Muritz both plan to pursue careers in English or journalism.

Of South's 210 graduates, 196 received their diplomas Friday, according to school officials.

About 1,600 people watched commencement in the gymnasium, while another 400 viewed the ceremony on a big-screen television monitor in the school auditorium, school administrator Mary Kline said.

Guidance counselor Deborah Donoghue said the class received just over $1.5 million in scholarships.

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