TRURO - Sure, it was a time to celebrate.
Completing a 13-year journey is always cause to have a good time. But that feeling of excitement was mixed with nervousness Thursday for Colchester County's high school graduates from Cobequid Educational Centre, South Colchester Academy and North Colchester High School as the moment of truth neared.
"I'm nervous to walk in front of all those people," Londonderry's Breanne Johnson said of crossing the stage to accept her diploma.
The three schools released 561 graduates out into the world, their future paths as varied as the individuals themselves.
Tim Trites, an 18-year-old Murray Siding resident who graduated from CEC, is off to Acadia University in the fall to study biology with the hopes of being accepted to medical school. In spite of his exciting future, Trites was focused on enjoying his last night together with his fellow 458 graduates. Those friends are what Trites said he'll miss most.
"I've been active in the school so I got to know people through sports and clubs," he said. "I've had so many great memories with sports and friends, everything has just been a great three years."
About 2,000 people filed into RECC to watch their loved ones cross the stage. The attendance caused traffic to back up toward both Willow Street and Truro Heights and school officials delayed the start of the event by about 15 minutes to allow those caught in the gridlock the chance to get inside.
Following the ceremony, Safe Grad festivities, which were also held at RECC, kicked off.
Hayley Brown, a 21-year-old Truro resident who went back to school to get her diploma, said the evening meant so much to her.
"I'm proud, very proud," she said. "It took me a very long time to do this."
In Brookfield, staff at South Colchester Academy congratulated 68 graduates on a host of accomplishments.
In his valedictorian speech, Aiden Schenkels reminded the room, "this class helped build wells in Africa and helped send those children to school."
Schenkels was also the recipient of the Governor General's award as well as a handful of scholarships and prizes so big he had trouble carrying them back to his seat.
Alexandra Fisher, the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Medal, wasn't quite prepared for the end of high school.
"It doesn't feel like it's happening yet," she said. "It shouldn't be happening. I mean, I grew up in a small community all my life. It's going to feel weird to leave."
Fisher will attend Mount Allison University to pursue a Bachelor of Science.
In Tatamagouche, North Colchester High School hosted its 63rd annual graduation, presenting 35 students with diplomas.
"I'm slightly terrified but I've been waiting for this all year," said Rielle Hoeg, class valedictorian. "I'm ready to go."
During her valedictorian address, she fondly remembered a former classmate, Michael Waugh, who passed away in a house fire at age 13 on March 31, 2008.
"He was truly the kind of person that would give you the shirt off his back," said Hoeg.
She said they will always remember his "big, goofy, contagious smile" and that his tragic passing taught each and every one of his classmates to never take life for granted.
School principal Tom Thomson said the school receives tremendous support from the community with more than $22,000, of the approximately $70,000 in bursaries and scholarships awarded to graduates, provided by individuals, businesses and organizations from the area.
MAJOR AWARD WINNERS
South Colchester Academy
Queen Elizabeth II Medal - Alexandra Fisher
Governor General's Academic Medal - Aiden Schenkels
North Colchester High School
Governor General Medal, Terry Fox Humanitarian Award, Loran provincial award, NSSAF Ron O'Flaherty award - Aly Pickard-Tattrie
Queen Elizabeth II Medal - Rielle Hoeg
Gold Duke of Edinburgh award - Sara Langille
Student of the Year - Kathleen Glasgow
* Cobequid Educational Centre's major award winners will be announced at a later date.