The Falcons have officially left the nest, as the Class of 2018 took flight on Tuesday night.

Charles B. Aycock High School again had the county's largest graduating class, with 293 seniors receiving diplomas.

The traffic jam started early, as cars packed the school parking lots and a line of people wrapped around the campus waiting to get onto Hardy Talton Athletic Field.

For Paul and Melanie Parrish, the occasion was as bittersweet, just as it had been on the first day of kindergarten for son, Josh Parrish.

Standing on the front steps of the school as the 18-year-old held the white mortarboard cap and prepared to join his classmates, it was hard not to flash back.

Their firstborn had several health issues early on, his parents said.

"He went through six ear surgeries in his first five years," Paul Parrish said.

"We had one specialist that said he'd always be delayed, he'd be in special classes and wouldn't be able to play sports."

The daunting news did not win out, however.

"He (Josh) was really young, and I knew my God was bigger than that. I knew we had a praying church, praying friends and family," Melanie Parrish said. "But here we are. It's just emotional."

She admittedly had cried the whole day leading up to commencement, she said.

And she was not alone.

"It's a roller coaster," her husband said. "I'm tickled. I'm happy for him."

The couple -- which also has a daughter, Katie, a rising sophomore at CBA -- could not be more proud, they said.

Josh exceeded all predictions, already completing two semesters of college courses and earning status as an honor graduate.

He plans to continue his studies in computer science this summer at Wayne Community College, in pursuit of an associate in science degree.

Graduation day held mixed emotions for the teen.

"It's more just shock and disbelief, just from what the doctors were saying (years ago)," he said. "It still shocks me."

When asked what he would miss about high school, though, his answer was immediate.

"Nothing," he said. "Nothing. I'm just glad these four years are over. I'm just ready to get this over with."

Addressing the gathering, valedictorian Carson Smitherman reflected on his high school career at the "best high school in America," praising principal Dr. Earl Moore and the teachers for their leadership.

He said it was a privilege to be taught and guided by them all, especially during the current climate, when safety in schools is of paramount importance. He said he was grateful for a staff that cares and values students.

Many bonds have been created since starting out as anxious freshmen to becoming confident seniors now heading out into the world, he said.

Smitherman will be among those going off to college in the fall -- to study biology at UNC-Chapel Hill -- while others will join the workforce or serve this country.

"Leaving high school and starting new things may be a difficult transition," he said. "Some of us are leaving behind everything we have ever known -- our best friends, our hometown, our parents doing our laundry. I'm afraid we are in for a rude awakening on that one.

"The bottom line is that we don't know what the world has in store for us."

He was not there to offer advice or words of wisdom, he said.

He realized, like perhaps others on the threshold of taking on the world, that most of them are still young, naive and a little nervous, he said.

The occasion signals a milestone, he said, not the least of which was the fact that it served as the last time the entire class would be together.

For that reason, among many others, it was important to "be present" and pay attention.

"We tend to rush and prepare for our life's next big event. And when doing so, we miss the ordinary moments each day that make our lives so extraordinary," he said. "In an age of technology, where many of us spend a lot of time on social media, we cannot forget to pay attention to each other and forge real connections.

"Stop and focus on the people who are right in front of us. Encourage each other. Learn from each other. Let people know what they mean to us and how much we appreciate them. The ordinary moments are made special because of the people who are there with us."

The class had two salutatorians this year. Hanbin Koo will be heading off to Williams College to study biology and Trenton Marlowe will pursue his education at N.C. State University, studying mechanical engineering.

Marlowe said the high school years had provided a "bunch of ups and downs" but equipped the students for whatever lies ahead.

"Sometimes things that don't seem to have a reason are just there to build our character, just the same way these last four years have," he said.

"Regardless (whether) we decide to continue onto college, work or the military, we will be ready for the challenges life hands to us."

Standing on the threshold of the future, he said the occasion provides his classmates with the chance to use their skills and knowledge to create success in their respective lives.

"We all have the ability to exceed our own expectations and the expectations others have of us," he told his fellow graduates. "So, continue to power through the issues life hands you and make your life better for you."