Among the open doors awaiting graduates are new opportunities in workplaces, colleges and the military, said Washington Board of Education member Bernadette M. Wagner. Air horns, whoops and cheers punctuated graduates' last moments as high schoolers.
For Ginger Stephens and her 18-year-old son Samuel, the event had its ups and downs.
"It's mixed. It's mixed," said Stephens, who celebrated the fourth - and last - of her children's high school graduations. "It's the last one, but you know, it's good and bad."
Stephens' son also was ambivalent.
"Happy to leave, sad to go," he said.
Curiosity, confidence and fear are three traits that will help determine where graduates go next, Atha said.
"Curiosity, in kindergarten, it led us to eat paste, pick our noses and stick our fingers in light sockets," Atha said, waiting as the packed audience's laughter died. "You know who you are."
People swarmed to get close to the stage at Hagerstown Community College's Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, where graduates picked up their diplomas. Posing for cameras as they returned to their seats, graduates grinned, laughed and even jerked their fingers in the air, like sports fans declaring their team no. 1.
One young man proclaimed, "I finally did it."
Salutatorian Rachel J. Doub said graduates should learn their achievements are bound only by their expectations.
"You live up to what you expect of yourself," Doub said.
Outside the gym, graduates and their families snapped photos in the dying light. A balloon floated free above their heads.
When asked what she would miss the most, Mareesha Brown echoed the thoughts of many other graduates:
"Everybody," she said while waiting inside the gym for family members. "Everybody's going their separate ways."