WILDWOOD — Valedictorian Sarah McBride took her fellow graduates back in time Monday night, recalling the awkward moments of their early years at Wildwood Catholic High School.

During the school’s annual commencement ceremony at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, McBride reminded her classmates of the special memories they share.

“These past four years we grew up – got rid of our braces, grew into our lanky bodies, cut our hair, or maybe let it grow,” she recalled.

But the experiences of the last four years, she said, helped each of them grow.

“Freshman year we thought it would be a lifetime before we got to be the cool seniors and an eternity before we would even graduate. But here we all are, those cool seniors anxiously awaiting our diplomas,” she said.

McBride urged her classmates to keep growing and learning to become “strong intelligent adults.”

And, she said, that the friendships they built over the last four years would remain. “We started off as strangers, but turned into inseparable friends,” McBride said.

Salutatorian Mackenzie Scully told her classmates to be proud of all they have accomplished while attending Wildwood Catholic.

“We are scholars. We are champions. And we have become and shall always remain leaders,” Scully said.

She noted that the school was once slated to close, calling the group “the class of 2014 that was never supposed to be,” until a grassroots effort worked to keep the school open.

Instead of closing, she said, the school produced athletic champions in many sports, including cross country, volunteers who helped on community projects, future military service members, and academic leaders.

Four years together also created a sense of family among the graduates, she said.

“Wildwood Catholic will always be home,” she said.

Scully left her classmates with some advice as well.

“Never be afraid to be yourself, always look fear in the face and accept all its challenges bravely, and dare to be unlike everyone else so we can each make a difference in our world,” she said.

The 50-member class was awarded a combined total of $8.76 million in scholarships this year, an average of $175,000 per student.

That total and per student figure is the highest in the last five years, said Kevin Quinn, director of development.

During the ceremony, an officer from the U.S. Naval Academy was also present to make graduate Thomas DePaul’s appointment to the service academy official.

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.