"Nervous." "Excited." "Very excited and nervous." "Sad, but happy." "Yeah. Sad"
The words tumbled out of their mouths as Marissa Oehler, Natasha Nix and Tori Bower attempted to explain how they felt about graduating at Nikiski Middle-High School on May 21.
They along with nearly 50 of their classmates milled about in the girls locker room, fixing their caps, joking around and jostling each other before the evening ceremony.
Finally Bob Bird, a history teacher at the high school, stood on top of a bench to get everyone's attention and cajoled them into lining up. As the strains of Pomp and Circumstance filtered into the room, they marched side by side out into the gymnasium.
Oehler, a new mom with a tiny footprint decoration on her cap, said she wanted to go to beauty school, probably to study cosmetology.
Nix said she plans to join the Air Force and move to Colorado after graduation while Bower said she plans to become a registered nurse.
When asked about advice to other students the three started talking over each other again.
"Go to school." "Yeah, go to school. No matter what." "And don't give up."
Kaden Spurgeon, salutatorian, had the audience rolling during his address.
"Being that the class of 2012 is and always will be the greatest class ever to exist in Nikiski history and according to the Mayans, the last class ever to exist in Nikiski history, I figured greatness and success would be good to talk about," he said.
Then, Spurgeon said he didn't have a lot of his own words to say, but spent a significant amount of time on Facebook googling cool quotes to post as his status, so he had a few words to share.
"One of my favorite quotes that I posted as my status was 'Greatness and realism are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. This meaning, to be great and to do great things you cannot be realistic about your life." That means that if you have a dream to do something, something that no one has ever done before, something that people say is too crazy to do, it only sounds crazy because you haven't done it yet," he said. "It means that you cannot set your goals with a narrow vision and a closed heart. You cannot expect the realistic white-collar man stifle your dreams and ambitions."
After the students threw their caps into the air to celebrate, valedictorian Colton Anderson laughed as he toyed with his cap which was covered in Taco Bell packets. He said he loved the fast food restaurant so much that he regularly drove the 25 miles it took to get to the nearest one just to get his favorite beefy five-layer burrito.
The aspiring physical therapist said he would miss the relationships he built through high school sports the most.
"The teammates you have during sports, winning, like we won small school at state this year," he said. "It's just the relationships I've made with my coaches, my teammates and my friends that are going to stick out with me."
Aiden Milburn, 9, attended the graduation to watch his sister graduate. He said the evening was "cool" but the best part was the slideshows of the students because the photos were funny.
He stood around after the graduation sucking helium from a balloon and talking in a funny voice at anyone who would listen as his mom, Amy Milburn, admonished him to leave the balloons alone.
Milburn said she was elated for her daughter as her voice hitched slightly and she blinked tears away.
"It is the most inspiring thing," she said. "I don't know how to explain it, I'm just speechless. She has been very nervous. I think she's ready, she's just not to the point where she knows she's ready yet."
Long after most people had already left the reception, Cydney Shea Spurgeon walked ran around the room barefoot, swinging 5-inch zebra print heels that matched her nails and her cap.
"It feels so good to be done and move on to the next chapter," she said.
She said she'd attend to the University of Alaska Anchorage to start herself on the path of medical school.
Spurgeon said graduating in a small community felt good and she appreciated the chances she got to grow close with her classmates.
"We're all so close. It really is like a family because there's not anyone you don't know and then everyone in my class gets along so well. We're always there for each other, there's never fighting so it's really, I'm going to miss them a lot," she said.