Braving the heat and blaring sun, friends and family of Dawson County High's class of 2012 gathered Saturday to watch the young men and women receive their diplomas.
Welcomed by shouts and cheers, 223 graduates paraded into Tiger Stadium wearing caps, gowns and various chords.
Class President Cody Hall welcomed his classmates in a speech.
"Fellow students, the past 12 years of our lives have been largely out of our control. We have been guided through the long, and at times painful, process of education," he said.
"Yet, all 12 years of learning have come down to one day, one piece of paper. After today we are as good as free."
Hall shared a personal wish and challenge with his classmates.
"I hope every single one of us will not be content for halfway, just getting by or being comfortable. I wish every student here will go wherever it is they dream of going and do what makes their life worth it ... We have one shot at this thing called life ... So why not make it something truly worth living," he said.
Salutatorian Jessica Smith followed Hall's challenge with a speech reminding graduates to seize opportunities.
"Life is so much more than just holding on for the saving grace of Fridays or allowing our existence to be hindered by our unshakeable comfort zones or our irrational fears," she said. "We owe ourselves and our God-given potential exceedingly more than that."
Throughout the speeches, a portrait of the class of 2012 emerged.
Principal Jute Wilson shared the various academic and athletic accomplishments of the class, including: 105 seniors receiving scholarships totaling more than $404,000; 28 students earning community service chords, representing more than 8,350 hours of volunteerism; and 45 seniors interning for 15,000 hours, earning $58,000.
Superintendent Keith Porter also applauded graduates for overcoming some of the system's biggest adversities.
"The class of 2012 has undoubtedly developed a reputation for resiliency in the face of adversity," he said at graduation. "Your class has been presented with more academic challenges than any other that I can remember."
He listed the various obstacles they overcame, including that they were the first students to enter the sixth grade under the new Georgia Performance Standards curriculum.
"You have overcome all of these issues and excelled. I want you to know that I am very proud of you," he said.
An honorary faculty member at the ceremony was Kenny Stewart, a fifth-grade graduate of Robinson Elementary who has been fighting cancer since third grade. Porter said Stewart's resilience is an example to others.
Valedictorian Greer French encouraged graduates to "do things you've never done before" and "experience new horizons."
A participant in scouting for most of her life, French used a metaphor of whitewater rapids.
"Whitewater, like life, can be kind of scary and challenging but lots of fun," she said.
When the last diploma was handed out seniors moved their tassels to the right side of their caps, signifying the official status of graduates. Shortly after, caps were thrown in the air and a new chapter began.