Seniors robed in purple-and-silver gowns huddled excitedly inside the Dayton High School gym Thursday evening, just moments before parading out onto the field like a football team playing the Super Bowl.
And for the 120 seniors, there were fans all about.
Some sported signs, others shouted out names like "Jose," "Brittany," "Heather." Others held flowers, ran video cameras, and shot pictures, all of it under a cloud-studded sky.
"We're excited," said grads and best friends Celia Rodriguez, 18, and Natalie Hernandez, 17. "We're in shock. We don't believe it yet. It hasn't hit us."
As the seniors walked out onto the field in flip-flops and dress shoes, the Dayton High School band played. Principal Teri White welcomed the students, their families and friends and briefly addressed them.
"Cherish all the memories that have molded you into young adults," she said. "We are so proud of you."
Bobbi Walker, whom most people know as the secretary at Dayton High, claimed a seat in the front row early about 6:10 p.m. to cheer her son, Zane, 18.
"I had written him a letter last night, and I gave it to him right before coming here," she said. "So we got the tears over with. We just told him we were so proud of him, and we couldn't have asked for a better child and that we wished him all the best in college."
Student Sabrina Cantrell sang "The Star Spangled Banner," and the high school choir performed "You Raise Me Up." Co-valedictorians Nicole Greer and Caleb Karges and salutatorian Stephen Owens spoke.
The commencement address was given by Rob Turner, a teacher of Spanish and history at the school. Seniors stood up and cheered him.
"I wasn't much different from you when I graduated, except the hairstyles were different and the music was better," he joked.
Many of the thoughts he shared with the seniors were about things they would learn as they grew up: like that children and grandparents are natural allies, that learning never stops, and that their parents were right.
"You'll learn a lot about yourself if you step back and look at the way you handle three things: rainy days, lost luggage and Christmas lights," he said.
For the seniors, the memories they leave behind are many. For Rodriguez, it's birthday parties, like her 18th on May 6, when her friends gathered in the lunchroom and brought her a cake.
It's canned-food drives and hanging out with friends. It's dances and assemblies and, for Colin Breckenridge, being the homecoming king. It's Scott Brower's 18th birthday party, and the state basketball championship in Las Vegas for Mike Parsley.
And for the 11 guys on the defensive line of the Dayton Dirtdevils, known as the D-Unit, it's the knowledge that memories will continue on in new places, say, like the Bahamas for seven days.
"We're leaving next week," Breckenridge said.
n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.