TUPELO - From Richard Colby Adams to Leighton Victoria Wright, Saltillo High seniors took a joyfully solemn walk across the stage at the BancorpSouth Arena Saturday afternoon.
Then parents, friends and family gave them all a raucous, enthusiastic standing ovation to cap their graduation.
Before the Class of 2009 claimed white diploma cases from Principal Tim DeVaughn, graduates were savoring the day.
"I feel great because I've learned so much," said Jennifer Lollar, who has attended Saltillo schools since kindergarten and now will head to Itawamba Community College. "I'm ready to start something new."
During the ceremony, top graduates and class officers saluted those parents and educators with prayers of thanks for all the lessons they had shared, even if they weren't appreciated initially.
"Thank you for each and every tardy slip," said Class President Blaine Wilson.
Because of the dedication, support and love of parents, teachers and administrators, "we're able to stand in front of you today in caps and gowns and begin the voyage to the rest of our lives," Wilson concluded in her welcome.
Valedictorian Abby Nichols exhorted her classmates to be serious about their futures as they celebrated the day's milestone.
"Lives of great men remind us that we can make our lives sublime," she said, reading Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Song of Life."
Salutatorian Katie Parker pulled the final lines of her speech from the Irish blessing the class sang in fifth-grade choir.
"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand."
"Fifth grade was my first year in Saltillo, so it's meaningful to me," Parker said.
The new graduates returned to the arena floor after the official Pomp and Circumstance March was over to toss their caps in the air before reuniting with family and friends. And even though the chapter of their high school careers ended Saturday, the graduates said they were more exited than sad.
"I'm not ready to leave, said Jesse Penney, who is bound for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York, "But I know I can always go home."