The Lodi High School Class of 2012 spent their graduation ceremony fighting against gale force winds that threatened to tear away everything that wasn't held down.
A westerly wind blowing at about 14 miles per hour, with even stronger gusts, blew away graduation caps, diploma covers, flowers and balloons. But it couldn't blow out the students' good spirits. It was time for 398 students to say goodbye to high school.
At the eastern entrance to the Grape Bowl, it was a flurry of adjusting caps, taking dozen of cellphone pictures and trying to locate friends for one last hug before the big moment.
Most students felt a little conflicted about the event.
"It's bittersweet. I'm sad that we're never going to see these people again, but it's relieving not to have to worry about it anymore," said Chastina Jutras, 18.
"I'm excited and sad. We get to move on to real life, but we have to leave our teacher friends behind," said Jack Weaver, 18.
"At the end of the day, you're going to miss them. Even the ones who did you wrong, because they were all a part of what made Lodi High," said Isabel Yepez, 17.
A group of young men were huddled in a close circle, examining a small object in Tony Malfabon's hands. The crowd parted to offer a glimpse at a well-worn, folded slip of paper. Malfabon tucked it back inside his wallet and explained that it was a list of friends who had made a tradition of sitting together at the same table at lunchtime during their freshman year. All eight boys on that list remained friends and were together while they waited for their commencement ceremony to begin.
"It's a little sad, but it has to end," said Malfabon. "We're going to burn it, together, after this."
Laura Weiderrich sang the national anthem to open the ceremony. Taylor Gums, associated student body president, acknowledged the reputation her class has earned as carefree, fun-loving, and maybe a little reckless.
"But that has given us countless stories and memories to last the rest of our lives," she said.
Lodi Unified School District board of trustees president Ron Heberle asked students to pause and think about the people in their lives who helped them reach this point.
"You are not alone. Many people do care about you," he said.
Carol Marceau, graphic design teacher, passed on her role as the 2011 Teacher of the Year to science teacher Todd DeGrandmont.
"He is a masterful April Fool's day prankster," said Marceau, who was once the victim of an elaborate water-squirting endeavor.
Campus supervisor Russ Anderson, known for his golf carts and gadgets, was named the classified staff person of the year.
Valedictorian Elizabeth Long decided against beginning her speech with a traditional quote or song lyric.
"I want to speak to you with my voice. Important decisions, like the ones that stand before us, cannot be made with other people's ideas," she said.
She encouraged her classmates to find a way to become the people they want to be, because they already have the power to do it.
Christina Turner sang "My Wish," by Rascal Flatts, as the senior song. She turned to face her friends instead of the audience for the final verse.
Principal Bob Lofstead announced that the Class of 2012 had earned nearly $2.5 million in scholarships, and thanked the students for their hard work.
"It was a pleasure to have been a part of your journey," he said. It was finally time to read the names of the graduates.
It seemed that the more names were read, the stronger the winds blew. At one point, several diploma covers flew onto the field where teachers and district staff did their best to collect them.
But the graduates didn't mind. This was their moment to pump their fists, throw their hands in the air and celebrate.
Afterward, parents met their graduates in the parking lot area on the side of the field. The sun was down, the wind had faded, and the students trickled away.
The atmosphere felt surreal for many students.
"I feel so amazing right now. Words cannot describe. It didn't hit me until just now," said Ashley Cropper, 18.