Nursing students from Columbia Basin College gathered outside the Toyota Center in Kennewick on Friday night, hooting and hollering as they waited for their graduation ceremony.
A few dreamed of what immediately awaited them after receiving their diplomas.
"Maybe I can actually connect with my family," laughed Cathy Richey of Benton City.
"And read a book," said Tina Etherington of Richland. "That's what my friends do. They're in book clubs."
The two and their friends said it was a long two years to earn their degrees, but they and the more than 660 other graduates who showed up to walk in graduation said they were excited and ready to start the next chapter of their lives.
"It's kind of crazy to know that two years of college have gone by," said Jeremy Cerillo of Othello.
It was the largest graduation in the Pasco college's history, with school officials awarding more than 1,300 diplomas. However, CBC President Richard Cummins told students that they shouldn't end their education with commencement but prepare to continue it, either by going on with their studies or starting their career.
Rene Finke, chairwoman of CBC's board of trustees, advised students to make sure they like the career they've chosen as "it's something you'll do eight, 10, 12 hours a day." Deb Bowen, this year's Outstanding Alumna, said students also should discover the secret of service.
"It has been said that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others," she said.
It also was a day of milestones. Bernie Vinther of Kennewick received his degree about a decade after earning it. He said his blindness prevented him from finishing one requirement but he worked with school officials to wrap his associate's degree in machine technology.
"I've got vocational technical school degrees but had nothing from a full two-year college program," Vinther said, his guide dog Griff by his side.
Chancellor Vicky Carwein of Washington State University Tri-Cities also announced graduate Francisco Aguilar as the recipient of the first CBC President's Award.
The award provides a full-ride scholarship to a student transferring to the Richland campus after finishing at CBC.
Aguilar had commuted from Prosser to pursue his education and worked as a tutor and wildland firefighter in the summer to support his wife and two children.
"Hopefully this will make the next year easier for your family," Carwein said to Aguilar.
Graduates acknowledged it was scary graduating. Richey said she had a job but not one as a nurse yet. Matthew Winston, who came from North Carolina to live and go to school in the Tri-Cities and earned his associate's in communication, said he still has courses to take before he can start his career in cyber security.
But the graduates were hopeful and said their time at CBC had helped to prepare them for their future.
"It's kind of tough, but people are interested in me," Winston said.