Commencement will be a poignant memory for David Poe.
Mr. Poe, a 21-year-old Laurel resident who was born with Down syndrome, not only delivered the welcoming address yesterday at the Cedar Lane School graduation ceremony, but also was honored with the PTA Award, given to the graduate with outstanding leadership abilities and compassion toward others.
The fact that commencement marked the end of Mr. Poe's 12-year association with Cedar Lane wasn't lost on the graduate.
"I will miss my teachers and friends," he said. In particular, he said, he'll dearly miss his homeroom teacher, Robin Nussbaum, and his fitness instructor, Fred Boddie III, whom David calls "Mr. Fred."
By the end of yesterday's 90-minute commencement for the school's four graduates this year, there were more than a few teary-eyed parents and teachers.
Graduate Tonya Engelhart, a Columbia resident with cerebral palsy, helped lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
A 30-minute slide, video and music presentation paid tribute to the graduates with vignettes of each at work, school and home, including childhood photographs.
Professional musician Carol D'Antoni sang a song she'd written, entitled "I'm No Different." The song included this reminder: "I'm the one who feels the same as you. I can cry and laugh the same as you."
"Each year I go to nine high school graduations and each is special and unique, but none is as beautiful as this one," said Howard County Superintendent Michael Hickey.
Three of the graduates -- Michael Miller, Peter Breaux, and Mr. Poe -- plan to move on to jobs.
Mr. Miller, who received the County Council Award for Leadership yesterday, plans to help his father at the service station where he's employed. The 21-year-old Mount Airy resident has an affinity for model cars and car magazines.
"He knows everything about cars. He should fit in well at the service station," said Steve Kucey, Mr. Miller's homeroom teacher.
Mr. Breaux, 20, of Elkridge will be employed at Ellicott Enterprises, a diverse company offering mailing, recycling and landscaping services.
"Peter's a real people person. He'll do great," said Olivia Goldsborough, Mr. Breaux's homeroom teacher.
Ms. Engelhart, 20, a classical music aficionado, is lined up for more training with the United Cerebral Palsy Program in Arbutus.
Meanwhile, Mr. Poe is looking forward to landing a custodial job, perhaps with county government.
But if you want to get him smiling, just bring up weightlifting.
"He lights up like a Christmas tree if I mention it's time to lift weights," Mr. Boddie said.
Mr. Boddie believes David's serious interest in fitness -- he's won several medals in Special Olympics events and has a barbell set he uses at home -- has helped him build self-esteem and pride during his years at Cedar Lane.
But weightlifting isn't his only interest -- he also likes jogging, horticulture, rap music, dancing, illustrating, hunting, fishing and that hip dance maven, Paula Abdul.
About two years ago, David entered the school's "work enclave" program.
The program provides the school's high school students with coaching in job skills and places them in work environments, such as custodial duties at Howard County General Hospital, clerical work at Howard Community College, and horticulture and cosmetology work at the county's School of Technology.
After completing that program, David was placed in Cedar Lane's work-study program. The program matches students with jobs under an internship arrangement.
Last year, David's work-study job involved custodial work at Faulkner Ridge, a combination professional center and school.
He performed so well that this school year he was given part-time custodial work with pay at Cedar Lane.
Mr. Poe's art work also has earned recognition. His illustrations of the U.S. Capitol building were chosen for an art exhibit celebrating the capitol's 200th anniversary.
The exhibit, sponsored by the Very Special Arts Council, is making the rounds of malls and government buildings statewide for display.
Drawings by Cedar Lane graduate Mike Miller were also chosen for the exhibit.
His homeroom teacher, Mrs. Nussbaum, said, "David enjoys doing a lot of things and when he does something he does it well. We'll really miss him around here."