All of South Hagerstown High School's graduates received their share of applause and cheers during Friday's commencement at the school.
But the loudest, most sustained response — a standing ovation — was for Kenneth Leon Kitchen, whose 5-year-old brother, Corey, died Tuesday.
Corey started battling malignant brain tumors in 2008, but the cancer spread, leading to his death.
Graduates also remembered one of their own. The Class of 2011's gift to the school will be two park benches, one of which will honor Emily Stone, who was killed in January 2010 while crossing Dual Highway near her home.
Class President Matthew T. Koebel, who announced the gift, said Stone was an inspiration and a good role model.
But most of graduation day was filled with smiles and hugs, as seniors capped their South High careers and shared their joy with loved ones.
They included Beverly Naa Ayeley Hammond, who hopes to take a predentistry program at Shepherd University, and Cody Austin Swope, who plans to study criminal justice at Hagerstown Community College and maybe become a sheriff's deputy.
Others will take a military path. During the graduation ceremony, a school official read the names of each senior going into the armed forces — 22 in all, with more than half headed for the U.S. Air Force.
Principal Richard P. Akers said this year's commencement was special for him because his niece was graduating.
He offered an "Irish blessing" and urged the newest group of "Rebels For Life" to stay connected to their alma mater, especially when it faces off against North Hagerstown High School.
Valedictorian Alexandra Turano listed victories over North High in mock trial and wind ensemble as some of the year's highlights, as well as sports wins and the success of the Future Business Leaders of America.
She encouraged her classmates to try to dance better than they have before and not necessarily better than others have.
"Our reputation is what we're supposed to be," she said. "Our character is what we are."
Salutatorian Tyler D. Ficklin said graduation is an important milestone, a first step toward success.
He recalled the hard work he did in high school and said others put just as much effort into their studies.
Both Turano and Ficklin acknowledged numerous people — friends, family, teachers, administrators — for supporting them along the way.
In her speech, Washington County Board of Education member Karen J. Harshman, a South High alum, quoted Henry David Thoreau, who said: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined."