‘Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny’

The Severna Park High School auditorium was filled with flashing lights, cheering, whistling, and soft sniffles. Thursday night as hundreds of family, friends and loved ones from across the county gathered to celebrate the 85 graduates of Anne Arundel Evening High School.

None of the graduates were silent as they walked across the stage to shake hands with Board of Education President Joanna Bache Tobin and Vice President Robert Silkworth after receiving their diplomas.

Audience members displayed balloons saying ‘Congratulations Grad’ and held cellphones high to get the best angle on the ceremony. One could almost mistake the auditorium for a flower shop. One family of about a dozen people filed into the auditorium wearing T-shirts bearing pictures of their graduates. It was easy to identify the graduate’s mother; she wore a T-shirt that said, “Proud Mom of a 2023 graduate.”

Since its establishment more than 50 years ago, more than 3,800 students have graduated from Anne Arundel Evening High School, a program that offers instruction in the evenings as an alternative to daytime school. Evening high school students often spend their days working or taking care of family or have life or health circumstances that make day school difficult to manage.

The evening was especially satisfying for Karlos Phelps, a graduate of South River Evening High School.

Phelps was one of three student speakers at Thursday’s ceremony and was nervous about addressing such a large audience. He started high school in 2019 at Broadneck High, but had a hard time adjusting.

The 19-year-old Bowie resident moved to Annapolis High School in 2020 before coming back to Broadneck in 2021 where he would only complete half of his junior year before transferring to evening school.

“I was one of those kids who didn’t go to school and didn’t do their work; [someone] who is trying to be something different than going to school,” he said.

Traditional high school just didn’t work, Phelps said. He would often get into fights with other students who tried to pick on him for his ginger hair and felt social pressure to “not act smart” in front of his friends. Phelps decided to shift to the evening high school program where he felt that social pressure lifted.

“Evening high school is the way to go. It’s easy, it fits your schedule: you can work in the morning, and you can go to school at night,” he said. “I’ve been getting straight As and Bs ever since.”

Dr.  Mark T. Bedell, Anne Arundel County Superintendent of Schools, seated, gives South River graduate Karlos Joseph Phelps a handshake after Phelps gave remarks on “What my diploma means to me.”  The 56th Anne Arundel Evening High School Graduation Ceremony was held Thursday, June 1, 2023, at the Severna Park High School.

Other student speakers shared similar stories about how traditional high schools did not meet their academic needs. They talked about how evening school provided an environment free of distractions and how the program gave them a second chance to catch up on senior-year requirements.

Dana Schallheim, the District 5 school board representative, and Superintendent of Schools Mark Bedell delivered congratulatory speeches.

Bedell told the graduates he went to evening high school in his senior year.

“What you don’t know about your superintendent is that my story is very similar to yours,” said Bedell. “Yes, I went to evening/night school in Upstate New York for my whole senior year of high school in order to graduate high school on time. I made mistakes; we all make mistakes. Yet, I did not let those mistakes define who I was going to become.”

In April, Bedell sat down with the Capital and told the story of his upbringing, and how he has used his career to become a champion for every student in the counties he serves.

“I am standing before you now in my seventh year as a superintendent, a very successful one in this country, but the path I had to travel was not a very straight path at all. Nobody will ask you, ‘Did you have to graduate evening school in order to get out of high school?’ What people care about is ‘Do you have your high school diploma?’” he said.

Bedell ended his address by quoting Frank Outlaw, the late president of Bi-Lo Stores: “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, for it will become your destiny.”

Phelps is planning to attend Anne Arundel Community College in the fall where he will pursue an associate degree and certification as a nurse’s assistant. He plans to attend the University of Maryland, College Park to complete a four-year degree that will put him on the path to becoming a veterinarian.

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