Graduates from Kennewick, Pasco, Prosser and Kiona-Benton City high schools, among others in the Mid-Columbia, stood proudly in front of family and friends Saturday to celebrate their achievements.
Saturday's celebrations included the following schools:
Kennewick High School
Samuel Stephens' favorite place at Kennewick High School was seated in the student section.
The school's 2012 salutatorian was proud to be a Lion rooting for his classmates in academics and at sporting events, particularly this year's football, volleyball, soccer, basketball and track teams.
But now that his four years are up, Stephens told his fellow graduates Saturday morning that they must say goodbye to Friday night football games, painting their faces orange and black and a host of other memories.
The 289 seniors who received a diploma now take on the responsibility of representing Kennewick High. "The goal is to make others proud," he said.
Kennewick's commencement kicked off another day of ceremonies at the Toyota Center.
Valedictorian Dayna Bolt said what makes them unique is their paths all intersected in one place -- high school.
"Some may say the past four years will be the best of our lives, and for others it was the worst," Bolt said. "... Seniors, look around. This may be the last time we're all together."
Comparing the journey to driving on a freeway, Bolt said it is a scary time "taking control of our own vehicles and merging into traffic." However, there will be signs along the way and they must choose to take the first exit, the scenic route or stop for supplies as they continue on.
"Regardless which exit one takes, all of our journeys are going to be different," Bolt said.
The senior class gave a table and chairs to the school to be placed outside the Lions Den for future Lions to enjoy. The graduates also filled out questionnaires that will be placed in a time capsule and returned to them at their 30th reunion.
Chiawana High School
Mother Nature shined down on the second graduating class at Chiawana High School as soon-to-be Riverhawk alums anxiously waited their turn to cross the stage at Edgar Brown Memorial Stadium in Pasco.
The 366 members of Chiawana's Class of 2012 also are the last group of students who also attended Pasco High.
Though the history and traditions at Pasco's newest high school still are being developed, Principal Teri Kessie said "the legacy these kids leave is an incredible reputation."
The senior class combined earned more than $1.5 million in scholarships to help them through the next stage in their lives.
The school's two honored speakers, Associated Student Body President Jared Costanzo and Alejandro Silva, shared memories of their school days and thanked teachers, friends and family for helping them reach this milestone.
"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened," Silva said, quoting Dr. Seuss. Silva, who started kindergarten as a second language learner, also gave his speech in Spanish.
Salutatorian CJ Edrington wrote a poem for his speech, while Valedictorian Naomi Matson chose to share a personal story to let her fellow grads know they can overcome anything.
Matson struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts after her biological parents were arrested at the family's Pasco apartments when she was in fifth grade.
Matson stayed with friends, shuttled between relatives' homes and was placed with foster families before later being adopted.
She buried her head in school work because she didn't know how to deal with the other pressures in life, but told her classmates, "if life gives you an inch, take a mile, because how else are we going to get anywhere."
"Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It's the courage that counts," Matson said.
Kamiakin High School
The 378 graduates of Kamiakin High School's Class of 2012 have exemplified the Braves' motto "Be the best you can be," said Principal Chris Chelin at graduation at the Toyota Center.
The class had three valedictorians who received an A in every course, had 11 National Merit Commended scholars and brought home three state championships in sports, he said.
In addition, students raised more than $5,000 for the Tri-Cities Cancer Center.
They also had some fun along the way.
Students will miss the quirks of their school, such as assemblies that always seemed to include shopping carts and spirit rallies that always seemed to need whipped cream, said co-valedictorian Elizabeth Hooper.
But her twin and Co-valedictorian Alexis Hooper said they won't miss waking up before dawn for zero-hour classes, showing up 20 minutes early to nab a good parking space and fire alarms.
What they'll value is not the fun, but what Salutatorian Emily DeFord called Fun II -- the type that gets better as time goes on, like the long hours of practice for marching band.
Don't be afraid to take on the tough challenges, she said.
"What we all do after graduation is what we really should be excited about," said Taryn Meacham, the third co-valedictorian. "So tonight, don't party like it's the end of the world, because it isn't."
Pasco High School
Girls in white gowns and boys in purple peered up at the stands of Pasco's Edgar Brown Memorial Stadium. Looks of recognition, smiles, waves and pointing erupted as the Pasco High School graduates found family and friends.
Valedictorian Mariya Kucheryavaya and others thanked those families for the support that helped the graduates get through high school.
Principal Raul Sital reminded the 334 members of Pasco High's 104th graduating class of the life skills of heart, mind, body and soul they have developed as Bulldogs that they will use in the next steps of their journey.
Denise Guzman, valedictorian and senior class president, said they've made it through high school, even if at times, they had their doubts.
Graduate Yazmin Aguilar explained that some students have made it through the challenge of moving to the United States from another country and feeling like kindergartners again as they relearned the basics.
Whether the graduates are headed for a job, college or the military, they can succeed if they continue to persevere, said graduate John Go, the Dean's List elected speaker.
Southridge High School
Arms locked, shoulder to shoulder, the Southridge High School Suns' Class of 2012 marched as a column into the Toyota Arena on Saturday evening while a packed house stood and cheered.
"We are going in different directions," said Michelle and Rachael Rehberg, twins who were two of the four valedictorians to address the 313 graduating seniors.
The identical twins then told their classmates to appreciate their differences and go out into the world to make a difference.
Co-valedictorian Randi Andreatta said the class learned many important lessons, not the least being "how sweet it is to beat Kamiakin High School at anything."
And Co-valedictorian Megan O'Leary assured fellow graduates they each had important traits.
"All of us together constitute the Class of 2012 as a community, and you all will impact future communities," O'Leary said.
Salutatorian Brett Konzek offered advice to the graduating class. "Enjoy life. Smile and laugh," he said, and value relationships by "showing people you care," he added.
Finally: "Don't be hard on yourself. It's the choice you make to get back up that matters," he said.
Geoff Simm, a popular Southridge instructor, reminded the outgoing class to be wise in choices and in attitude, which can make the difference in all circumstances.
Southridge Suns pride echoed through the arena throughout the ceremony, reaching a crescendo when Madysen Fancher, president of the ASB, thanked her fellow seniors for her four years at Southridge.
"I will always be proud of where I came from, proud to be one from under the sun," she said.
Prosser High School
Rain fell at Art Fiker Stadium early Saturday morning but the skies were sunny by the time the 170 members of the class of 2012 of Prosser High School walked onto the field for graduation.
Principal Kevin Lusk said this group of seniors had shown particular resilience throughout their high school education, dealing with loss and heartache along the way.
"We've all heard it's not what happens to you, it's how you react," he said.
Valedictorian Lance James spoke of his appreciation for his teachers and his family, and called on his fellow graduates to not waste their lives and decide how they would affect the world.
"Don't let graduation be your last achievement," he said.
James' sentiments were echoed by Salutatorian Gabe Beck who said that if high school is supposed to be the best four years of his life as some have said, "I might as well quit my life if that's the best it offers."
Beck quoted Matt Foley, the motivational speaker portrayed by the late comedian Chris Farley, who once proclaimed that most people don't amount to much in their lives and instead end up "in a van down by the river."
"My challenge to my fellow students is to prove that 300-pound dead comedian wrong," he said.
Kiona-Benton City High School
Superintendent Rom Castilleja said he remembered addressing the Kiona Benton-City High School Class of 2012 when they graduated from the eighth-grade in 2008.
That same year, the high school's graduating class of 2008 was offered about $275,000 in scholarships to pursue higher education.
"I challenged them to do better," he said.
This year's graduates rose to that challenge, earning $362,000 in scholarships, not including students who qualified for a College Bound scholarship, which covers tuition and some expenses for low-income students.
Valedictorian Emily Leist said this year's graduating seniors were like dandelions, springing up with colorful blooms where you'd least expect but eventually moving on to other pastures.
"By being part of the wind, we allow ourselves to be part of bigger and better things," she said.
Salutatorian Delaney Rader spoke of how the members of the class would perhaps never meet again but still would be able to stay in touch and see each other grow through social media.
Salutatorian Brooklyn Hirschi said that each graduate was liable to make mistakes but that what mattered was that each graduate stay in the game.
The seniors weren't the only ones honored Saturday. Teacher Ken Jones, who is retiring after 42 years in the classroom, was recognized by Principal Wayne Barrett, who said Jones told him how he wanted to have his retirement celebrated.
"He said to just call a staff meeting and I won't be there," Barrett said.
Saturday's graduation ceremonies at Tri-Cities Prep in Pasco began with a prayer.
Salutatorian Peter Rodriguez asked his 30 fellow classmates to "thank God for the gift of a new life ... and for leading them from being awkward freshmen to competent, compassionate seniors."
All will be attending college next year, many locally, but one will be heading to The Citadel in South Carolina, another to Trinity Western University in Canada.
In all, Principal Arlene Jones said, "our graduates have accepted $1.4 million in scholarships. That's over $43,000, on average, for each student."
The Class of 2012, the 11th to graduate from Tri-Cities Prep, also included an exchange student, Pascal Breitenstein from Zurich, Switzerland.
Valedictorian Kelcey McBride compared her classmates' lives to a book, saying "we've gotten part way through, and all of a sudden the rest of the pages are blank ... and that can be terrifying. For many of us, the future is an amorphous blob, requiring too many choices and holding too many options."
"But the thing about the future is that, as scary as it can be, it's always there, and it will always have something to offer us. It presents us with nearly endless potential for growth and achievement," McBride said.
Student elected speaker Alexxis Valencia kept her talk light and upbeat, telling her classmates that "our differences are what makes this class great. We're an eclectic sandwich ... the crazy ones."
Quoting an Apple Computers commercial, she continued, "Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round heads in the square holes. The ones who see things differently ... the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do," she said.
Liberty Christian School
Valedictorian Tasha Talbot and Salutatorian Tyler Koglin served their classmates some wisdom and memories from their high school days during Liberty Christian School's graduation ceremony Saturday afternoon in Richland.
Koglin spiced his speech with plenty of humor, poking fun at himself as well as his classmates.
Koglin spiced his speech with plenty of humor, poking fun at himself as well as his classmates.
"The nice thing about having a small class is that it was easy to keep track of students during our class trip," Koglin joked.
But he also was quick to point out his own youthful shortcomings, such as eating too much and admitting P.E. always had been his favorite time of day at school.
"Seriously, I learned so much at Liberty Christian," he said. "I liked that we were pushed to do our best, and I had amazing friends and teachers who encouraged me to continue to do God's work."
Talbot began her valedictorian speech with as much humor as Koglin, poking fun at herself for misspelling valedictorian.
"I always pronounced it 'valevictorian' because (the achievement) is a victory," she jested. "But I've been dreaming of this day since 2008."
That's when her sister graduated as valedictorian, followed by her brother who was valedictorian in 2010.
While a video presentation was given to the audience, the students circulated through the gym passing out roses to their loved ones.
-- Reporters Annette Cary, Ty Beaver, Paula Horton, Loretto J. Hulse, Kristin M. Kraemer, Dori O'Neal, Kristi Pihl and John Trumbo contributed to this report.