Tekevian Williams patiently stood outside Eastern Wayne High School on Tuesday night as his mom, Sharon Williams, straightened his cap and gown before the graduation ceremony began.
Nearby, his "godmom," Angie King, captured the moment with her camera.
"I'm happy. I'm filled with joy, all the good stuff," Ms. Williams said. "It's a very proud moment.
Classmates Carmen Santoyo and Marinka Barragan have plans to attend Wayne Community College in the fall, possibly to become dental assistants, although Miss Santoyo wouldn't mind being a veterinarian.
Miss Barragan hinted that she might one day become a dentist.
Deny Lumbic also intends to study at WCC for two years before going on to Johnson and Wales, a culinary school. He hopes to become a chef, he said.
The evening graduation brought with it some emotions, he admitted.
"I'm a little bit nervous," he said before lining up with his classmates. "It's very bittersweet -- seeing all my friends leave for bigger and better things."
Christian Anderson and Y'Oente Royal also had mixed feelings about the rite of passage.
"I'm excited, very excited," Anderson said.
"I'm relieved," Royal said.
Jacob McCotter could hardly contain his enthusiasm for the big night, pausing to reflect on its significance.
"I'm very excited but sad at the same time because I'm going to miss my friends," he said. "I'm really happy because that means I accomplished something that a lot of people didn't accomplish."
He is going to enlist in the Army, he said. He leaves Aug. 22.
As 242 Warriors prepared to cross the stage, parents, relatives and friends prepared to celebrate in a myriad of ways.
Quantionia Swift was there to cheer on her daughter, Kwantenia Applewhite, an aspiring nurse.
Miss Applewhite's brother, Jalen Applewhite, carried several helium balloons while his cousin, four-year-old Aubree Artis, held two bouquets of flowers.
As strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" waned and the commencement got under way, senior class secretary Tela Bivins pointed out one empty chair, in tribute to all the fallen Warriors of the Class of 2017.
"This has been a difficult year at our school as we have lost members of our school community on the staff and of the student body," Principal Lee Johnson said. "Let us remember that life is short and that we should love each other while we have each other."
Salutatorian Elizabeth Sutton reminded her classmates that while they have long been told that high school will be the best years of their lives, that is only partially true.
"Our time here is over, but that does not mean our lives are," she said. "They have only begun. So, Class of 2017, as you leave here today, go and make each and every day the best day of our life and look back on our time here together and the memories we made as some but not all of the best years of our lives."
Valedictorian Zhanhao Liao called the milestone an "intersection" of life the classmates have been talking about for four years.
A transfer student who came to the school two years ago, he suggested his peers put aside their "unparalleled memories" as he set out to offer the best piece of advice he would impart.
"Be yourself at all times," he said. "In today's fast-paced world, we get easily distracted by what the world expects us to do."
He challenged the graduates to be honest with themselves, design their own path and navigate down the road. Most importantly, have a joyful spirit and "engulf every breath of air for the purpose of becoming a better you."