Three Gettysburg Area High School (GAHS) students were recognized for getting more than their diplomas Friday night.

Erin Heeschen, Alicia Hernandez, and Emma Ham were the first in the district to graduate with college credentials after completing courses through HACC's dual enrollment program, GAHS Principal Jeremy Lusk said.

Lusk said he could not be prouder "of their accomplishments."

Dr. Cynthia Doherty, HACC's provost and vice president of academic affairs, recognized Heeschen with an Associate Degree in Applied Science in General Studies, while Hernandez and Ham received Associate Degrees in Architecture Technology.

Heeschen and Hernandez said GAHS gave them opportunities to "branch out" and try different things like take courses at HACC.

For Heeschen, she learned not to be afraid of taking chances.

"Taking HACC courses over Advanced Placement courses was a choice I had to make. It was great for me," 18-year-old Heeschen said.

Hernandez, 18, said she is going to miss the Gettysburg community the most.

"I feel Gettysburg is a place you can do anything you want," Hernandez said. "You can branch out, and it's not a weird thing. I had the opportunity to study architecture and also be involved in music."

Both students plan to continue their education. Heeschen is going on to study chemistry and anthropology at Dickinson College, and Hernandez will major in architecture at Thomas Jefferson University.

There were more than 260 graduates who walked across the stage in their maroon and white caps and gowns Friday night.

Lusk shared a special connection with the Class of 2018. He was approved as a new administrator at the high school two days before the freshmen class walked through the doors in August 2014.

Friday was Lusk's first graduation ceremony as principal, he said. He officially became principal in November.

"I don't need to hope because they are ready," Lusk said before the ceremony. "When I look at the Class of 2018, I'm thoroughly impressed. They have so much to offer to the community and to the world."

In his speech, Lusk said the graduates are "the warriors that fight back against life's imperfections." Lusk reminded them to turn "challenges into opportunities."

"Your path as warriors does not end here this evening," Lusk said. "This is a moment to pause, to recognize, to celebrate, and then, as warriors, we all need (to) keep improving continuously."

Valedictorian Kathryn Wagner brought memories from elementary school and life lessons from the Disney movie "Bambi" in her speech Friday night.

Wagner recalled an educator teaching her elementary class basic writing skills early on.

Every story in the teacher's class ended with "it was a sunny day," no matter the topic, Wagner said, with a smile.

At one point in her speech, Wagner pointed to when Thumper, the bunny in the movie, got into trouble for saying something mean.

"Thumper's mom told him 'if you can't say something nice don't say nothing at all,'" Wagner said. "I truly think that if we as the Class of 2018 can do that, if we can remember to catch ourselves as we begin to go negative, to stop and remember how nice we treated each other at school, and if we can carry forward the respect for ourselves and others that we learned over the last 13 years, then each day will truly be 'a sunny day' for the Gettysburg Area School District's Class of 2018."

Gabrielle Glassmann shared greetings, Jared Herr gave introductions for senior speeches, and Vernon Cisney was selected to present a speech by the student committee. Gettysburg Area School District Superintendent Dr. Jason Perrin awarded diplomas to the students Friday night, while School Board President Carlos Wampler assisted with the academic medallions.

Vanessa has been a Times Staff Writer since 2014. She covers Adams County court, Adams County government, Gettysburg Area School District and the National Park Service.

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