Parents snapped pictures, friends blasted air horns, bands played “Pomp and Circumstance” and graduates sent beach balls and squared caps flying.
The scenes are unfolding at commencement ceremonies throughout the county—and in Fairfax at the EagleBank Arena—this week as Loudoun’s 16 public high schools celebrate their largest combined class of 5,890 graduates.
During commencement ceremonies so far this week, guest speakers have reflected on all that the students have accomplished to reach the finish line and offered them plenty of advice for their futures.
At Douglass School’s ceremony, Michael Richards, Loudoun County Public Schools’ chief of staff, commended the graduates of the alternative school for reaching the milestone despite obstacles they may have faced. “That’s an amazing thing. At your age, to have overcome those major challenges to get where you are now, that’s a skill that’s going to serve you very well in life,” he said.
Dominion High School graduates got some advice from their AP psychology and biology teacher Joseph Haberman, who nudged them to value life experiences over possessions.
Dominion graduate Jackson Steele, who will attend University of Alabama this fall, said he walked away from Sunday’s commencement ceremony feeling excited, but also a little sad. “The whole thing hasn’t entirely hit me yet, but it’s a little bitter sweet. I’m done with high school and that’s great, but at the same time I’ll be leaving behind all the friends and memories that I made.”
On Monday, Tuscarora graduates heard from fellow Huskie Amanda Presgraves, who was part of the school’s first graduating class six years ago. She was assigned to attend the then-new high school despite her protests to stay at Loudoun County. She ended her first day at Tuscarora in tears at her locker.
But that night, she decided to make the most of her situation. She borrowed $3,000 from her grandparents to get T-shirts made with Tuscarora colors and logos. She sold the shirts out of her Subaru and, within a few days, sold out. Shortly after, she created the student cheering section at games, dubbing it Huskie Terror. What she thought would be two bad years turned into two pivotal years of growth for the teen.
“If there is one thing I want you to take with you it’s that you can switch your mindset—like right now,” Presgraves said. “We cannot always choose where we are, but we can choose what we want to do with it.”
There are still a dozen commencement ceremonies on the docket this week. Graduates from western to eastern Loudoun said it’s a week of celebrating with friends and family, reflecting on 12 years of school memories, and looking forward to new opportunities.
Daniel Butler, a Loudoun County graduate, said it’s been a week of mixed emotions. There’s a lot to look forward to—the all-night grad party Thursday, a trip to Europe with family this summer, and studying sports management at James Madison University this fall—but he’ll be leaving a lot of familiarity behind. “It’s a bitter sweet feeling, because there’s a lot I’m not going to see anymore when I leave.”
Potomac Falls grad Briana Haas and Loudoun Valley grad Shannon McNerney say they’re just simply excited.
“Graduating in general means I can go to college and be more independent. I’m excited to move on,” said Briana, who is headed to Purdue University to study brain and behavioral science.
“I’m ready,” Shannon said. “I’ve been mentally checked out all year, but now I’m happy that the real world is finally catching up to where I am mentally. I’m excited and ready to go.”
Freedom had the largest graduating class in Loudoun County with 464 graduates, followed by John Champe with 465. Stone Bridge graduated 410; Briar Woods graduated 408; Rock Ridge graduated 396; Potomac Falls graduated 395; Dominion and Woodgrove each graduated 385; Broad Run and Loudoun County each graduated 380; Loudoun Valley graduated 352; Heritage graduated 345; Tuscarora graduated 330; Riverside graduated 310; Park View graduated 278; and Douglass School graduated 100.