When Alyson Flora, one of the student speakers at Oakdale High School’s graduation, took the lectern, she spoke about growing up, explaining that it’s not a one-time event.

“The simple act of walking across the stage doesn’t plunge us into adulthood,” she said.

For the Oakdale seniors who received their diplomas Friday morning at Mount St. Mary’s University, growing up will be a part of their journey after high school.

They’ll experience new things, meet new people, go outside their comfort zones — all the things that happen when unconsciously growing up.

Flora said growing up is not defined by a GPA or the number on a sports jersey, but what makes students happy and how they can affect the world.

Emma Lopez arguably grew up a little faster than her classmates as she completed high school in just three years.

“Sophomore year I decided to skip my junior year and go straight to senior year,” she said. “In middle school and the beginning of high school, I doubled up on a lot of classes so that I didn’t have to take any extra classes this year.”

She had a full class schedule each semester her senior year. Most of the classes, she said, were electives.

“There wasn’t a lot more homework either,” she said. “I took my academic courses early so I didn’t even have to take an extra math. I took one extra English, that’s all.”

She said she wanted to graduate early because she’s been mature her whole life and felt she didn’t always fit in with the grade she was in.

And she’s “super excited” to get to college. She plans to attend Loyola University in the fall to study political science.

She likes to challenge herself so she didn’t find the extra classes hard at all. In fact, she enjoyed it.

“I enjoyed going to class every day and having work to do and then going home and having work to do,” she said.

The thing she’ll miss most about high school is her teachers, explaining that they became her mentors.

“They become like parent figures to me,” she said. “My parents aren’t around much, my dad’s not in the picture, and my mom has to work full time. These teachers have really become family to me and it helped me get to where I am today.”

Another senior, Brian Tu, is also growing up. He landed an internship this summer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. He’ll be an exhibit guide.

He is set to attend Towson University in the fall to study biology with a concentration in animal science. He wants to become a veterinarian and work with large and small animals and eventually marine animals.

His favorite animal, though, typically doesn’t require veterinarian care.

“This is an exotic one, and it might not happen, but my favorite animal is a wolf,” he said. “I’m never going to be able to do that. They’re too wild.”

Wherever the graduates are in their journey to grow up, it’s just the beginning.

Follow CJ Fairfield on Twitter: @FairfieldCj.

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