Danbury High School faculty had fewer students to say goodbye to than the average high school, but the small number only made it harder to do so.
Thirty-four students accumulated more than $500,000 in scholarship money — a remarkable figure given the 2014 graduating class' size — principal Michael Cole said at Danbury's graduation ceremony Sunday.
He gave a passionate speech that encouraged the students to seize the moment and relentlessly pursue their dreams.
"Dreams are what make us human," he said. "Some people after (10 years), their dreams are not in their heads anymore. That does not have to happen to you."
He encouraged students not to take years pondering his straightforward messages.
Chase your dreams immediately, he said.
"Do it now," he said. "You cannot build a life on what you intend to do."
Many students will start this quest of their dreams by attending a variety of colleges throughout the midwest.
Few are attending the same institutions, however, making Sunday emotional for many students who have attended school together since they wore diapers.
"We are like family here," student Heather Spears said. "It's emotional."
A slide show lasting almost 30 minutes depicted this sense of "family" embedded in Danbury education.
Students' baby photos were shown next to their senior photos. Other photos displayed star Laker basketball players over their years on the hardwood. As the slide show played, tissues were difficult to find in the Danbury gymnasium.
Adding to the intense emotions was a tribute to Austyn Morin. Much of the ceremony was dedicated to Morin, who died last summer at the age of 17.
The ceremony served as an opportunity for students to bottle up what they have experienced at Danbury, both good and bad, and take it with them on their future endeavors.
"We've suffered loss together, we've cried together," student president Lindsay Mark said in her address. "Now it's our time to go out and change the world. Let everyone know we are a part of the Danbury family."