The Goldsboro High School Class of 2017 received a bonus opportunity to don caps and gowns Thursday, as they made a final lap through their former elementary and middle schools.

The official commencement exercise is tonight at 6 p.m. on the school football field.

But on Thursday morning, the bulk of the graduating class boarded three activity buses and made their way to North Drive Elementary, Dillard Middle and Carver Heights Elementary schools for one purpose -- the senior stroll.

The excitement in the hallways was palpable as students in the lower grades anticipated the arrival of the graduating class.

"You've got to hold your signs up, guys," kindergarten teacher Jackie Rogers instructed her students as the clock ticked down to the guests' arrival.

Her class was prepared with posters and "shakers," a noisemaker crafted from the students' plastic Easter eggs and filled with rice.

As the announcement was made on the intercom kicking off the graduation parade, the youngsters' cheers escalated.

"Cougar Pride" took over as the grads-to-be smiled and waved, some crying at the recognition of former teachers or family friends.

Like Josephine Best, a substitute who was at North Drive and acknowledged a student she knew from church.

Seniors Denise Porter and Annquenette Broadhurst were both alumni from North Drive.

Classmate Jaryan Hargis said the senior stroll brought back memories of himself as a younger student.

Eymonie Atkinson had attended both North Drive and Dillard.

"It's a good feeling," she said as she exited the elementary school. "I actually saw one of my third grade teachers, and she had one of my pictures up. And then I actually saw students that I knew. I knew what it feels like to be in their shoes."

Dayquell Dawson is weighing his options between the Army and Air Force. The trip down memory lane to Dillard, which he attended for one year, was a nostalgic one.

"I don't remember being that size," he said, before getting serious. "Coming from the neighborhood I come from and going to this school, it really inspires you -- they push you to be better.

"It's like, I want them (younger students) to achieve more, just knowing what middle school and high school are like."

Margarite Rouse, a former Dillard student, admitted she was looking forward to seeing people she knew at the school.

One of the more enthusiastic chaperones with the GHS students was Jason Wilson, a history teacher at the school.

"This is my first full year at Goldsboro, but I have been coaching football for three years," he said. "I just love this moment when these kids come back.

"It's one thing to hear from a teacher, but when you see people in your community, they come back in their caps and gowns ---- kids are very visual."

Dillard Principal Sonja Emerson had her own emotional reaction to the occasion.

"I had to wipe away a tear because these graduating seniors were some of the very first students when I came here five years ago," she said. "They were like 10, 11, 12 years old.

"To watch them walking across in their caps and gowns, that they have made it, that they're successful, it's just awesome."

The day also provided an opportunity for those able to witness the return of the former students -- the underclassmen who, hopefully, will one day have their own cap and gown moment.

"We need to really encourage these young boys and girls that this can be you," Ms. Emerson said. "To instill in them that 10 days from now those eighth-graders are going to walk across our stage and in four years from now, this can be you."

Coach Robert Grant, a health and physical education teacher and athletic director at Dillard for 23 years, doled out handshakes and high-fives to the strolling seniors.

"It's exciting," he said afterward. "When I see them, I can still see them as 12, 13-year-olds. It gives me a lot of pride seeing them."