EGG HARBOR CITY - Three years ago it was just an empty building in the middle of a clearing in the Pinelands. On Saturday, Cedar Creek High School celebrated its next milestone: graduating its first high school class.

A total of 175 students marked the school's first graduating class, in a ceremony held on the young school's football field that is ringed by the Pinelands. Speakers noted that they were, as the program called them, the school's "primum genus," or first class.

Many of the seniors graduating Saturday had finished their freshman year at Oakcrest or Absegami high schools, the other two schools in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District. They started as sophomores in September 2010, when Cedar Creek opened.

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The school draws from a number of small towns, including Egg Harbor City, Mullica Township and Port Republic in Atlantic County and Washington Township in Burlington County. Some Hamilton and Galloway Township students also attend through the school choice program.

Alyssa Lutgen, the school's salutatorian, spoke first Saturday, reminiscing on her experiences at the schools. "They are what make us family," she said. "And much like a family, we have laughed together, cried together, and grown together."

She encouraged the graduating students to be courageous and attempt to do things they hadn't thought possible.

She also told students to follow their heart, strive to be happy, take risks and be true to themselves.

"Lastly, love with your heart wide open, and I don't mean this in just a romantic sense," she said, extolling passion. "The ability to love is our greatest gift, and if we don't share it it's not half as beautiful."

The class valedictorian, Michelina Hesse, emphasized the role the first class plays in history of the school.

"Much like a tree, our school began with a simple seed - an idea," she said. "From that idea, there now stands Cedar Creek High School, as a testament to what an idea can become."

She recalled how the school seemed empty as it slowly filled, and walked through the championships, rallies and relationships that can seem so important when one is in high school. "Quickly, because of these diverse efforts, we've blossomed into a respectable, reputable high school."

She thanked the staff, and told the students that the school has now been firmly established.

"We've all taken part in helping our school grow and flourish. We've set the bar. We've established a legacy. We've been planted. We've been fertilized, and we've been rewarded with memories to cherish. We have grown into a school that we're all now a part of - we are Cedar Creek."

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