Lee High School's class of 2006 graduated on Monday, June 19 during a ceremony punctuated with wild applause and shouts of love for their classmates.
During an emotional moment in class president Amy Nham's welcome speech, someone shouted out "We love you Amy!," which was met with a round of applause and cheers.
"We're finally here," she began, at the end of the journey they began together four years ago after leaving Key Middle School.
Nham encouraged her classmates to "take a deep breath, take it all in. This is real."
Feeling nervous during their graduation ceremony and while thinking about the uncertain future "is OK," Nham told her more than 490 classmates and friends. "It shapes who you are and who will grow to be. It's hard to believe that four years ago, we were walking into Lee with tired, scared expressions on our faces. We got through it all together."
On their graduation day, Nham reminded her fellow graduates they were ready for whatever comes next.
"Every day you amaze me," she said. "You are ready for this. I know you're ready. You are the role models the world needs and will follow."
Nham's faith in her classmates was echoed by their principal, Donald Thurston, who told the students they've led their school "with pride."
"You represent Lee and yourselves in an outstanding manner and you should feel proud of what you've accomplished," Thurston said. "I can truly say it's been a wonderful four years working with you."
UPON LEAVING LEE, Thurston said he hoped his students would remember to "lend a helping hand to a friend" in their lives, as "the road ahead will have detours. Stay focused, you can complete the journey."
The two students who were selected to give graduation speeches, Julie Crego and Chloe Yingst, had different ways of closing out their high school careers.
Starting with some Dr. Seuss, Crego told her classmates that their days of counting down to graduation were finished, the time to move on had arrived.
"Let's pause for a moment and reflect on what high school was all about," she said.
When Crego started at Lee, she was a shy, introverted girl who wasn't sure who she was and, to make up for that, tried to be like everyone else.
"When that didn't work, I decided to try to be me," Crego said. "I became more confident and sure of myself. This growth and acceptance of who I am made me apply to be a student speaker today."
Life outside Lee "will not be easy," Crego said. "The key is to remember never to give up. High school is only one chapter in our lives, but now that chapter is coming to a close."
At the start of her address, Yingst said she was not going to try to change the world or make a "life changing speech."
Instead, she asked her classmates if they could imagine being the "owner of an unlived life."
By not following their passions and dreams, by ignoring their potential or just not trying, Yingst warned that they could become their own worst enemy. "Life isn't easy or fun," she said. "Are you going to let that get in the way? There is nothing enlightened about shrinking yourself to let others overpower you."
When starting college or a job in the fall, she encouraged her friends to continue to fight to be who they are. "We fought for the past four years as stubborn teenagers. Will we be able to pursue who we really are in the future? I think so."
AS THE GUIDANCE counselor of up to one-third of some students' lives, Dr. David Checcino said his relationship with the class of 2006 was one he'd never taken for granted. "It's something that transcends the adult-student relationship or the student-teacher relationship," he said "It results from mutual respect that comes when human beings interact with each other in a humane way."
Checcino said he remembers some students from when he first met them before they started seventh grade, when he visited them at their elementary schools to talk about courses in middle school. Others he didn't meet until the start of their final year. "I have found knowing you and working with you to be rewarding and meaningful," Checcino said.
After they leave Lee, Checcino said he'd like to know how the students are doing in their lives of work or college. "Moving on doesn't have to mean forgetting people who are important to you," he said.
Checcino thanked the class for the invitation to be their speaker, adding that "my parents would be very proud of me if they were here."
He ended his speech by wishing the students to go into the world and be peacemakers.
Then he walked in front of the podium and finished a magic trick, taking a handkerchief that he had previously disappeared into his hand out of thin air, waving at the class and bowing at their applause.