Crystal Salit stood onstage at the Baker Park bandshell Friday morning, looking out at the two dozen students who were part of her graduating class.

She’s known many of them for as long as she could remember. Moments before turning her tassel, she recounted a few of her favorite memories: yearly trips to the Great Frederick Fair, field days, spirit weeks, dances. It all happened alongside largely the same group of kids.

“We grew up together. I saw them every day,” Salit said in American Sign Language as a teacher interpreted. “I’m really going to miss that.”

The 25 members of the Maryland School for the Deaf’s graduating Class of 2021 had their moment in the sun Friday, gathered together in the heart of Frederick after a year of largely virtual instruction.

It had been an overcast morning, but the skies were blue by the time the graduates were ready to walk across the stage. Many of them stopped after receiving their diplomas to remove their masks and beam at the crowd, often signing “I love you” and pumping their fists in the air.

But there was sadness, too — and plenty of tears.

“I feel heartbroken,” Hanna Johnston-Shaw said. “I’m excited, of course. But this has been a wonderful school to have grown up in.”

While lots of MSD students commuted to and from school each day, some — like Enow Otto of Waldorf — lived on campus in the dorms during the week.

Living and playing sports alongside his classmates created a unique “brotherhood” between them, Otto said. Next, he’s off to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. — but his peers didn’t know that until he announced it to them on Friday. They’d been waiting to find out what he decided, and he kept them in suspense until he’d been handed his diploma.

In response, members of the crowd raised their hands in a cascade of visual applause.

Throughout the ceremony, graduates, teachers and administrators spoke about love and resilience in the face of difficulty. After the pain of the coronavirus pandemic and protests over racial injustice, both topics that featured heavily in student speeches, graduates said they hoped to go forward into the world with courage and confidence.

They were glad they could communicate those messages together — in person.

“I’m really happy that we all could get together and be here for this last time before going our separate ways,” Johnston said. “It’s a nice wrap-up.”

And despite the long list of downsides to being a high school senior during a pandemic, Salit said it taught her something important.

“It’s been a good lesson for me, for my future,” she said. “To cherish every moment.”

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek

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