If the theme for the night could be just one word, it would have to be unbelievable, because that's the one word hardly anyone could stop saying at Parkway Central's Graduation and Commencement Ceremony, at the Greensfelder Recreation Complex in Queeny Park Thursday night.
Surprisingly, there weren't a whole lot of tears shed throughout the evening, but there were certainly lots of smiles, hugs, and cool high-fives, as Parkway Central's 312 graduating seniors said goodbye, received their diplomas, and expressed their love to a school and community that clearly loved them back.
"It's great, kinda of a weird feeling, but really unbelievable," said senior and varsity basketball star Zach Biggs, who was also one of 86 Central High students that graduated with honors, after maintaining a 3.5 grade point average or better for at least seven of his eight career academic semesters over the last four years.
"I mean, it's over. We're about to go into the real world, but this was definitely a great accomplishment. I'm really happy that I'm spending it with some of my favorite people and all my friends."
School principal Tim McCarthy gushed over the numerous achievements of the Class of 2012, including how this year's graduates had earned over $8 million worth of scholarship money for college next year.
Heading that group was class valedictorian Joel William Sher, with a 4.75 GPA on a 4.0 scale and the highest in the class, with acceptance into Yale University next year.
Class president Aaron Rudman and featured speaker Nicholas Bergesch were also among the evening's top honorees, as was fellow senior Daniel Sauerwein, who gave the evening's closing address at the end of the ceremony.
One of the biggest cheers of the night was for popular football star Brandon Shepherd, who will continue his college career at Oklahoma State University.
"I'm just excited," said Shepherd. "I can't believe it's finally over. It's been great the whole four years. Just so many friends, and great teachers, and so many memories, I just can't believe it's over with. But I'm looking forward to getting started on the next chapter of my life."
Many of Central's 2012 graduates also attended the school-sponsored, all-night, drug and alcohol-free party, called "Project Graduation," Thursday night at the Chesterfield Sports Fusion on Long Road.
Schools around the country have adopted the idea of throwing their own all-night, lock in-type graduation night parties, which encourage graduates to celebrate their big night without drinking or doing drugs, so that all who came out to celebrate that night, would make it home sober and safe the next day.
"Oh yeah, I'm going," Shepherd said. "It's going to be a lot of fun just having everybody hang out together. But please tell everyone, I'm having a big party this weekend. Everyone's invited. It's at January Wabash Park (in Florissant), I hope everybody can come."
And when asked if he thought his parents would mind if hundreds more people than expected came to his graduation party because they read about his open invitation, Shepherd said, "No, not at all. The more, the merrier."
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