Students share years of happy memories as they leave Tokay behind for new experiences

A chill breeze greeted the Tokay High School graduating Class of 2012 under some mild cloud cover on Friday night. But the cool weather couldn't freeze out their smiles, or stop the final moments of high school from passing by all too quickly.

Students gathered in Tony Zupo Field to get organized before the ceremony.

Rafael Romo dressed up for the occasion in a bow-tie and wing-tip black and white shoes.

"I'm excited, nervous, sad. I don't want to leave," he said.

Many were surrounded by years of memories.

"We've been friends since elementary school. Since kindergarten. It's awesome to have them next to me," said Krystal Gouveia, 17.

"We've grown up together. These are the guys. These are the bros right here," said Nathan Hyske, 18.

A large circle of boys formed along the edge of the graduating group. They kicked a woven hacky sack back and forth to one another, cheering when it remained airborne for more than a second or two. A friend had tossed it in over the wall for the seniors to play one last round of the game that passed so much time during high school.

When Tokay officials called for students to line up for the processional, the graduates clamored for one last hug, a kiss from a boyfriend and shared screams of excitement. Each girl carried a golden sunflower in the crook of her arm.

From the football field, parents and friends could hear a great roar as the graduates moved into place.

"You guys ready to do this for real?" asked principal Erik Sandstrom at the beginning of the ceremony. Sunflowers dotted the stage in bouquets and on boutonnieres.

Sandstrom asked students to acknowledge Tokay's staff for all the help they gave students over the years.

Graduates clapped enthusiastically, but when the time came to thank parents, the applause grew into a standing ovation.

"The best way to predict your future is to create it," said Sandstrom during his introduction.

Jamie Anaforian was named Educator of the Year.

"She spends countless hours with our students preparing them for the future. She inspires them every day," said Sandstrom.

Senior class president Taitum Herrington told her classmates to think of their lives as a beach. She asked if they saw themselves running, walking, playing in the sand or sitting and watching the waves go by.

"Remember to walk your own path vivaciously," she said.

English teacher Kevin Piña presented the Senior Class Award to Henna Ahmed, a young woman who has battled leukemia since November 2007. Treatments were successful, but they caused deterioration in her left hip. That resulted in six surgeries and forced Ahmed to use a walker to get around campus. But she walked to the podium on her own two feet with no assistance to accept her award.

The sky cleared and the sun peeked out of the clouds as Tokay staff read out name after name. Track star Haley Kroll ran into the ceremony late, coming in from the Master's Championship at Elk Grove High School.

Valedictorian Ethan Chang made a well-received joke about seeing yet another Asian student delivering a speech before his talk turned more serious.

"We've all experienced growth and had experiences make us into who we are," he said. "Let's take our pictures together, hug our families and enjoy our night. We've earned it."

Arianna Brusa sang "Thankful" by Josh Groban to usher her class into the real world. Then hats were tossed, applause rang out, and it was over.

Families rushed to greet their graduates in the parking lot next to the Grape Bowl under a sunset that turned the sky appropriately purple.

Emotions overwhelmed the new Tokay alumni.

"Just blind happiness. There's nothing else to feel," said Derek Blankenship, 17.

Victoria Villnueva, 18, put it simply.

"This is an ending to a really awesome story," she said.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews. com.

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