Graduates of the class of 2012 from Richland, Hanford, Columbia, River View and Connell high schools, and others across the Mid-Columbia, celebrated their hard-earned diplomas Friday.
Graduation ceremonies continue today for Kennewick, Kamiakin, Southridge, Pasco, Chiawana, Prosser, Kiona-Benton City high schools, as well as several others.
Friday's celebrations included the following schools:
Richland High School
The 346 members of Richland High School's class of 2012 received many nuggets of wisdom to take with them as they get set for the next chapter of their lives.
Seven valedictorians thanked their friends, family and teachers for support through their four years as Bombers and, in their own way, told their fellow grads that they can do anything they set their minds to.
Lauren Joseph urged her classmates to always be accepting of others, and Melody Qiu told them to "act with a purpose, smile often and live deliberately."
Katrina Hui reminded the graduates that they will define their own successes. Ellen Liu congratulated her "fearless" classmates and said there's still so much more ahead.
Allison Boynton looked to rocker Jimi Hendrix for sage advice: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."
Jessica Warren spoke in verse telling her classmates that even though one chapter of their lives is finished, "the rest of our stories are still to be written."
And Amelia Hillebrant wished her classmates luck using a quote from the popular Hunger Games series, "May the odds be ever in your favor."
The valedictorians also shared time at the podium with salutatorians, Summer Harrison and Cameron Nelson, before the diplomas were handed out.
Principal Tim Praino told his soon-to-be former students to remember to "be of service to your fellow man," and recognized 11 graduates who made up Richland High's military class of 2012.
Four young women and six young men soon will report to duty as Air Force recruits, and one young woman will serve in the Marines.
Hanford High School
As Hanford High co-valedictorian Arill Bartrand prepared to stand before his 335 classmates Friday afternoon, the graduate was asked to share his views on life.
But Bartrand had to admit that was an unwise suggestion since he's only been alive for 18 years.
So the 2012 senior gave the one piece of advice that he says has yielded substantial results: "Don't get comfortable."
Bartrand brought laughter to the Toyota Center as he recalled jumping into a lake to clean off during a hunting trip and his jeans suddenly disappearing. Nothing was more embarrassing than riding back to camp on a mule with a gun slung over his back and no pants on, Bartrand admitted.
Bartrand thanked the educators who pushed students out of their comfort zones, and reminded his fellow graduates that whether they choose to party all night or sleep in late they must continue to strive.
He was joined on stage by five other valedictorians -- Hannah Horner, Finn McMichael, Jiaqi Mei, Andrey Sushko and Nicole Umlauf. Salutatorian Colin Serkowski, who has stuttered since he first started to talk, instead rapped his speech as the crowd clapped along.
Longtime teacher and drama coach Matt Leggett drew cheers when he told the graduates it is "the very last day of your high school career, but the first day of the rest of your life."
The future is like an open highway with a clear, blue sky, and the only potential road block to keep graduates from succeeding is ignorance, he said.
"It's a green light, and let's go," said Leggett, adding that the magic hammer to defeat the enemy is their education.
River View High School
River View High senior Abi Hamlin could not come to graduation Friday night in Finley.
She's in Seattle preparing for a bone marrow transplant to treat a recurrence of acute myelogenous leukemia, but her presence was felt throughout the ceremony.
Valedictorian Jessica Sems started her speech with a message from Hamlin: Never take life for granted and be patient.
In the traditional River View slide show with baby photos followed by senior pictures, there was Hamlin, a curly-headed toddler and then a grinning student with no hair left. The crowd cheered.
The class of 59 graduates had fun at graduation just as it had during the school year.
"How many party rockers are in the house tonight and how many are ready to have a good time?" asked co-salutatorian Kodie Ginder-Mill.
"As a class we have seen two centuries, two millennia and three decades, just since we started kindergarten," said co-salutatorian Lauren Riley.
And Garrett McComas, picked by the class to speak, remembered impromptu "grown man Mondays" with many of the boys showing up wearing ties. It was followed by the more popular "tank top Tuesdays" with a gun show in the hall not always appreciated by the staff in charge of dress code, he said.
The class went out with a bang, excelling in both academics and sports, Sims said.
And the ceremony ended with a bang too -- red and black balloons fell from the ceiling to be popped beneath the feet of students.
Columbia (Burbank) High School
It isn't often a cougar offers advice to a pack of coyotes.
But the 58 graduates of Columbia High School in Burbank heard sage words on Friday not just from any cougar, but the "Voice of the Cougs" himself.
Glenn Johnson, who has been the announcer for the Washington State University football and men's basketball games for 33 years, told the graduating seniors to remember that coyotes -- the school's mascot -- have great traits: keen vision, adaptability and cleverness.
Those traits would serve them well as they journey into the adult world, he said.
"I wish for all of you to have those traits of a coyote until you're 100 years old," Johnson said.
Salutatorian Kaitlin Cobb noted in her speech that adulthood itself is a journey rather than a destination.
"This isn't the end," she told her classmates. "It's a single point in a journey we'll be traveling our entire lives."
Valedictorian Emily Noyes encouraged her classmates to embody an additional trait -- understanding.
She said that's the most fundamental part of being human.
"I hope we always try to understand our friends and family, and people we may never meet," Noyes said.
Understanding is something she learned from the teachers, friends and family members who influenced her, Noyes said.
"Teachers are not the only ones who teach us," she said as she thanked the people who guided her. "Without all of you, I wouldn't be here wearing this dorky hat."
Connell High School
A welcome breeze sent balloons dancing, tossed graduates' tassels and cooled the crowd of parents, relatives and friends gathered Friday night for the Connell High School graduation.
The 120 members of the class of 2012 strode onto Esser Field at precisely 7 p.m., purple robes swirling around their legs, gold roses raised high in salute.
Graduations are all about speeches, and the class of 2012 had a lot to say.
Taking risks, pursuing dreams and setting goals were common themes in speeches by the five valedictorians. Salutatorian was Sharlisa Davidson.
Co-valedictorian Megan Booker asked her classmates to "think of every new beginning as your big opportunity to find success."
Setting goals and working toward them without worrying about failure was the focus of Co-valedictorian Michaela Easterday's speech.
"Because if you don't go after what you want, you will never have it. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. If you don't step forward, you are always in the same place," Easterday said.
And co-valedictorian Rachael Dart urged her classmates to take risks.
"Many of the greatest events that happen in life come because we are willing to risk something to achieve it. Dear fellow graduates, don't be afraid to take risks to achieve your dreams, and don't give up when things don't go according to plan," she said.
Co-valedictorian Elaine Pierson told the crowd to "choose to live life the fun way."
"The fun way is doing what you love, always. Don't ever give up on something or back down because others tell you to. The fun way is being a good person. It's living your life in the way that makes those you love proud and gives you a feeling of contentment," she said.
Connell's newest graduates earned $570,300 in scholarships.
New Horizons High School
Dannira Jimenez said some people have misconceptions about the students who attend New Horizons High School.
"But we, the class of 2012, are here to prove them wrong," said the senior, fighting to hold back her tears.
Thirty students graduated from the alternative Pasco high school Friday night at the Byron Gjerde Center at Columbia Basin College.
Principal Christy Rasmussen that while the school serves students who've struggled in their education or had other challenges, she has come to know them as talented mechanics, dedicated parents and sometimes individuals wise beyond their years.
History teacher Seth Johnson pointed out the appropriateness of the school's mascot, the phoenix and its legendary ability to rebuild itself from ashes.
"I'm impressed on a daily basis on how my students show they have the heart of a phoenix," he said.
Student speakers, including valedictorian Jordan Johnston, pointed out the support of their families, their teachers and the community allowed them to celebrate Friday.
"You have all pushed us in the right direction so we'd continue to grow," she said.
River's Edge High School
Sandals, tennis shoes, flip-flops, high heels, black dress shoes and a wheelchair paraded across the stage Friday at Chief Joseph Middle School as the class of 2012 from River's Edge High School in Richland received graduation congratulations.
"River's Edge High School is more than awesome. It's truly an inspirational school," graduating senior Lindsay Cornelius told her 39 classmates and about 350 family and friends gathered for the ceremony.
"To teach is to touch lives. I wouldn't have made it without (my teachers)," Cornelius said in an emotional moment that kept the audience focused on the story of her journey to success.
"Thank you for seeing in me what I couldn't see in myself. Today I am 9 months and 14 days sober, a high school graduate and heading to beauty school," she proudly declared.
Valedictorian Jason Harris, sitting in a wheelchair, carried the theme forward, crediting his tutor, Rebecca Barrington, for inspiring him to achieve beyond what he imagined possible.
"I didn't even expect to graduate, much less be valedictorian. She made me see I should never settle for just a passing grade, and she became my friend," he said.
"You shouldn't look up to me. Look up to someone like her," he told his classmates.
Hoots and hollers filled the auditorium throughout the hour-long ceremony, which ended with a slide show of candid photos of the seniors from the past year.
-- Reporters Ty Beaver, Annette Cary, Michelle Dupler, Paula Horton, Loretto Hulse, Kristin M. Kraemer and John Trumbo contributed to this report.