Hugs were exchanged, tears shed and mortarboards tossed Friday in the Mid-Columbia as hundreds of high school seniors turned from students into graduates.
Friends and families snapped photos, waved and cheered as they watched students pick up diplomas and walked back down the aisle and into the rest of their lives.
More graduation ceremonies are planned in the Mid-Columbia Saturday.
Richland High School
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Bomber pride was on display Friday at the Toyota Center.
For the Richland High Class of 2014, "wherever we go, whatever we do, it will always be Bomber time," said Michael Ashby, one of six valedictorians.
Salutatorian Adam Oates said he had seen other schools, but they did not compare to Richland High.
It may have a reputation as a sports school, but that's not true, he said. It's an academic school.
"Without you guys, I wouldn't be up here right now," he told the school's teachers.
Haylie DeVine, another valedictorian, joked that the class had spent four long years perfecting the art of procrastination.
But valedictorian Mark McDonald showed he had perfected the art of juggling as he tossed cubes into the air and talked about the art of juggling school work, social activities, eating, sleeping and church.
Other valedictorians were Kennedy Corrigan, Hannah Mitchell and Frederick Williams.
The class had 385 graduates, including 16 honored with a standing ovation for their decision to enter the Armed Services.
"Bomber power, Bomber power," chanted the class as students waited to pick up their diplomas.
"In less than an hour you will no longer be students of Richland High," said Principal Tim Praino. "You will be something much, much better -- Bomber alumni."
-- Annette Cary
Hanford High School
The Hanford High School graduating Class of 2014 has a future aerospace engineer, a future wildlife biologist and someone who's going to college "to collect knowledge."
They strode into the Toyota Center on Friday, almost 400 strong, wearing purple and gold gowns. There were 152 honor students among them and 15 who were signed up to serve in the military.
There were also 10 foreign exchange students -- some from The Netherlands, Thailand and Indonesia.
One of the 10 valedictorians, Lucas McMillan, told his classmates to never be contained by someone else's image of who they should be.
"We are more than the sum of our past experiences, more than numbers and pieces of paper, more than what society says we can be," he said.
Talk to people was advice from valedictorian Chenguang Li: "Everybody has lived through something new. Everybody has something to teach."
Other valedictorians were Jonah Bartrand, Ryan Colson, Elisa Garrett, Courtney Olsen, Martijn Oostrom, Sathvik Ramanan, Carolyn Rice and Lucy Wang.
Salutatorian Virginia Kuan said the process of applying to college -- the endless essays -- taught her how to think, how to open her mind to new ideas.
Two graduating seniors were honored as Falcon of the Year, as chosen by their teachers and school staff. They are Tenley Weil, ASB president, and Seth Cook, president of the Key Club.
As each was presented with a trophy, mathematics teacher Vickie Kelly said they were chosen for contributions to the school and how they inspired others.
Social studies teacher Paul Mayer left the graduates with this advice:
"To be thankful to those who helped along the way, for your health and that you live in America.
"To take responsibility in every area of your life. You're the one in charge.
"To choose a career you really, really, really want to do, find a way to make it work for you and do it well.
"To marry the right person. Not right away, slow down, think and make sure it's really the right thing to do."
-- Loretto J. Hulse
River View High School
It seems like only yesterday that River View High School's graduating seniors were "skinny little freshmen" trying to navigate the hallways, recalled valedictorian Michelle Klejeski.
Now they're at the top of the food chain, getting ready to go out into the world, she said at Friday's graduation in Finley.
Hundreds of parents, siblings, relatives and friends sent the Class of 2014 into its next chapter with applause and cheers.
"The graduates of 2014 are a very unique group. From Day 1, they have been passionate, eager and willing to take on new challenges," said Principal Bryan Long, adding that he's extremely proud and "will forever remember our days in these halls ... I will never forget you or your efforts."
Finley School District Superintendent Lance Hahn, who was principal during their freshman year, said the graduates also have a special place in his heart.
"Its been a joy to watch them mature and become the people they are -- very successful. We're excited and proud to have you as graduates," he said.
Graduating senior Mathew Morton also spoke. "May the odds be ever in your favor," he told them, invoking a phrase from The Hunger Games. His fellow graduates stood and offered a salute from the popular movies.
-- Sara Schilling
Columbia High School
Wearing their purple and gold school colors, the Columbia High School Class of 2014 was urged to overcome life's challenges, to have an "I can try it attitude," and to strive toward their goals.
Principal Kyle Miller commended the class of 55 Burbank students Friday for their hard work, saying that "not one single student had been turned away from a diploma due to state standardized testing. That's something few schools can say."
The class boasted 19 seniors who were in the National Honor Society and 20 who earned scholarships totaling $416,326.
"And those are only the ones I know about," said Ardith Eakin, student services coordinator for the high school.
Salutatorian Cesar Castaneda reminded his classmates that "each one of us influences everyone we meet. It's our obligation to keep working hard in life ... to be an example to those behind us."
Fellow graduate Nathan White talked about how life throws challenges and struggles at everyone and how they leave their mark as they are overcome.
"They grow in intensity as we grow up ... but we need to draw strength from them," he said.
The future of the world is coming from this generation was the theme of valedictorian Wesley Bolliger's speech.
"I hear more and more complaints about our generation, our violence, but it's my opinion -- and yes I'm only 18 -- but pessimism is wrong," he said.
"We need to use our aggression, channel it, and keep going. When life has you in a choke hold, kick it in the shins as hard as you can," he said.
-- Loretto J. Hulse
Three Rivers HomeLink
It didn't take long for one of Three Rivers HomeLink's salutatorians to bring many in the audience to tears.
Sage Zaugg was deeply affected by his 6-year-old brother Aidan's death from brain cancer in 2008. Confused and feeling lost, Sage learned about HomeLink and started there his seventh-grade year.
"I cannot express how incredibly and unbelievably thankful I am for this school," Sage said. "Through the friends I made and the amazing staff, I believe I began to heal faster than I would have at any other school."
Six students received their high school diplomas during HomeLink's ceremony at Richland's Southside Church, the same building that serves the parent-partnership program's almost 400 students.
All six graduates have been at HomeLink since their middle school years, the longest any one class of graduates had been together in the program, said Principal Eric Sobotta.
He remarked on watching them grow up, noting that senior Sam Andrews always was stoic and that co-salutatorian Cheyenne Griffith is a past Washington Aerospace Scholar and amazing baton twirler.
School counselor Johanna Davis said the graduates are heroes, overcoming their own challenges and excelling. Each has been accepted to a college or other higher education program.
"I, for one, am glad to have been part of their hero story," Davis said.
HomeLink was a place to live life, said valedictorian Katie Swanson. Now it's time to go out into the world.
"Whether you are going off to become the next president or working at McDonald's, you still have the gift of being able to live life and that is a precious gift," she said.
-- Ty Beaver
River's Edge High School
Student after student stepped to the microphone at River's Edge High School's graduation to thank faculty for sticking by their sides and making them believe in second chances.
The theme of the five valedictorians' speeches at the Richland alternative school graduation was overcoming obstacles, in school and life.
More than 200 people filled the Three Rivers Convention Center on Friday morning to watch 28 of its 48 seniors receive their diplomas. Not everyone could attend the ceremony.
"I'm no longer a negative kid with no future ahead of me," said co-valedictorian Alec Richardson. "I became a man. A man that is filled with nothing but confidence, positivity and integrity."
With digital images of American flags waving as a backdrop, Principal Dan Chubb spoke with pride about the Class of 2014 and the hard work it took to get to graduation.
"Look up, get up and never give up," he said, quoting from former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin's Hall of Fame speech.
Three other valedictorians -- Ricky Mohl, Shaleh Lutz and Audrey Turnipseed -- read short speeches. The fifth, Dominique Amador, could not make the ceremony and a faculty member read her speech.
"High school wasn't the easiest for most of us up on this stage. We had lots of bumps in the road trying to get to this moment," Turnipseed said. "Looking back at it, those struggles that we had only made us stronger people and harder workers."
Mohl received the Paul Beardsley Memorial Scholarship, Turnipseed received numerous scholarships and Lutz was named the Student of the Year.
-- Tyler Richardson
New Horizons High School
New Horizons High School valedictorian Tomasa Riojas told fellow graduates Friday she wanted to drop out of school, pack her things and leave town after her father died in September.
But teachers and students at the Pasco alternative school wouldn't let her.
"I toughened up and found a reason to stay," she said. "Today we have a story to tell. We are New Horizons High School graduates."
Principal Brian Leavitt told her and the other 28 seniors they were all guilty of violating school disciplinary code for "willful disobedience."
"I've concluded that the students are here before you because they did not listen to those who did not believe they could succeed," Leavitt told the audience at the Gjerde Center at Columbia Basin College.
Some of the students had children, faced disciplinary issues or were considered incapable of graduating.
Students' choice speaker Catherine Nanyanzi told the audience she came to the school because it was small. That helped her after she moved to Pasco from Africa.
"I enrolled at New Horizons because they were willing to work with me to do what was needed for the foreign student," she said.
Teacher Seth Johnson referred to basketball legend Michael Jordan in telling the students that they only fail if they don't learn from their mistakes.
"You will never meet your full potential if you are afraid to take the game-winning shot out of fear you will miss," he said.
Cathleen Garretson was salutatorian.
-- Geoff Folsom
Connell High School
There were few empty seats at Esser Field as the sun began to set Friday as the 100th class of Connell High School finished its high school career.
Valedictorian Kylie Booker encouraged her fellow graduates to not let their graduation be the high point of their lives.
"Without a doubt we will all have an impact, so ensure it's a positive one," Booker said.
Booker will head to Eastern Washington University in the fall to study elementary education, but acknowledged that she's as likely as anyone to change her major.
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself," she said, quoting the Gospel of Matthew.
Salutatorian Joslyn Empey also is unclear what her future holds. She asked for those who came before to forgive her and her classmates for being human and making mistakes along the way.
But Friday was a day of celebration regardless, Empey said, because everyone made it. Now for what happens next.
"None of us know the way but we'll be there soon enough," Empey said.
-- Ty Beaver