It was a picture-perfect evening for Highland Regional High School's 45th annual graduation ceremony.
A cool breeze swept across the Blackwood school's football stadium Thursday night as 259 Tartans decked in dark- and light-blue graduation caps and gowns anxiously awaited the big moment when their names would be called and they would step up on stage to receive their diplomas.
The commencement exercises, which included speeches by the Class of 2012's six valedictorians and salutatorian, were the culmination of four years of final exams, science projects, dances, plays, band competitions and sporting events.
"In case it hasn't hit you yet, Class of 2012, we did it!" Jacqui Green, class president and one of the co-valedictorians, exclaimed at the beginning of the ceremony.
Indeed, they had done it. And, a little less than an hour after Georgia Tech-bound Green uttered those words, the roll call that would prove that fact to all 258 of her fellow graduates would begin.
"Yesterday has become our legacy. Today is our day. Tomorrow is in our hands," Green added.
Co-valedictorian Chrisi Bush urged her fellow graduates to maintain youthfulness throughout their lives.
"We cannot forget the profound wisdom revealed in our childhood," she said. "We must never let go of our child-like ability and dedication to an open heart and to love, for our accomplishments mean nothing if they are done without compassion."
Joining Bush and Green as Class of 2012 valedictorians were Emily Atzert, Sheik Hassan, Shaiful Kashem and Seth Nicosia. Each finished high school with a 4.67 grade-point average.
Salutatorian was Samantha Trueland.
"With the guidance of our teachers, the love of our parents, and the support of our friends, I know that we have all been prepared to make an impact in this world," Trueland said.
The 45th annual graduation ceremony marked Beth Petitte's first as Highland principal.
Petitte called on the graduates to be cognizant of the impact their parents, relatives and friends had on allowing them to reach graduation.
"Your emotional and intellectual growth was encouaged not only by your teachers, but by family, friends and community," she said. "They watched with pride, as well as anxiety, as you made tough choices that shaped your values and your personality, clarified your goals and determined your interests. The person you are today is a reflection of those people.
"So, as part of your celebration this evening, reserve a moment to thank them."
Petitte announced Sean Klingberg as the winner of the 2011-12 Renaissance Award, which was founded in 1996, shortly after she informed the audience that the Class of 2012 had been awarded more than $7 million in college scholarships.
Black Horse Pike Regional School District board member Jennifer Storer commended the graduates for making sound decisions to this point in their lives. She referred to the "ifs" each person faces on the path of life.
"As graduates you have faced many 'ifs.' If you studied hard instead of texting your friends all night. If you made good decisions when faced with challenges, like drinking or drugs. If you chose the right friends. ... You're here because you chose the right 'ifs' in life so far," she said.
Proud family members and friends packed the bleachers on both sides of the football field, under mostly clear blue skies, to watch their favorite graduates accept their diplomas.
Michele Taggart, who graduated from Highland in the 1990s with her twin sister, Colleen, was surrounded by family as she watched her little sister, Kathleen Desmond, graduate Thursday night.
"When Colleen and I graduated, she was the baby in the stands. Now, her niece is the baby in the stands," Taggart said. "I just can't believe it. Congratulations to all of them. They've made it."
Donna Dent was not pleased she could not bring balloons into the stadium for her granddaughter, Jaymah James. As she walked back across Blackwood Clementon Road from her SUV, parked at Bethel Christian Center, she explained she wasn't going to let that ruin the special night.
"I'm a really proud grandmother. She's been involved in a lot of activities here at Highland. She's an honor roll student," Dent said of James. "I'm really proud of the teachers—they've been good to her. ... I want to say thank you to the staff. Congratulations to all of the students."
Click here for a complete list of the Highland Class of 2012.
Editor's Note: Please feel free to add congratulatory messages to your graduate, and to upload photos and/or videos from their special night. Be sure to check back with Gloucester Township Patch for more photos from the Highland Class of 2012 graduation ceremony.