The eruption of cheers and applause at the end of Butler High School's graduation ceremony reflected not only what the graduates accomplished but what they've endured.
The Butler graduates witnessed the deaths of six students who walked the halls during their four years -- five of whom would have been Class of 2010 graduates.
Stephanie Wilson, one of 138 Butler graduates, said she wished her friend Carlos Ryans, who was fatally shot at the age of 16, could have lived to see Wednesday.
"He was very outgoing and energetic," she said. "He would have been here. He just got things done."
Carlos' death will serve as a lesson to her beyond high school.
"We can really realize how short life is, because of what we've been through," Stephanie said. "He could have done whatever he wanted. Now, we have to."
Stephanie will study nursing at Augusta State University in the fall.
She and her class have done Carlos proud. The graduates won a total of $716,168 in scholarships.
JOHN S. DAVIDSON FINE ARTS MAGNET SCHOOL
Davidson graduates have a connection that compares to a close-knit family, said valedictorian Tam Van.
The 81 graduates hold artistic talents that they were able to hone throughout their years at Davidson. Having those gifts in music, dance and acting did not make them popular, said Tam, a classical and jazz pianist; however, it did make them stronger.
"We can make it through anything if we've made it at Davidson," he said. "We can take the punch, and punch right back ... We never cease."
CROSS CREEK HIGH SCHOOL
The reality of graduation hit Jamonica Holmes around breakfast time Wednesday.
"I haven't eaten anything. I just can feel it in my stomach," she said around lunchtime. "I've just been so excited."
The feeling had not subsided moments before she and the other 295 Cross Creek graduates prepared for the graduation processional.
Fellow graduate Destiny Howard said Wednesday's graduation was a relief, and the gateway to her next step -- Georgia State University.
"It's time to start my career, and move on," she said.
T.W. JOSEY HIGH SCHOOL
Josey High's celebration Wednesday came with a unique seating arrangement for its 206 graduates.
Male students, in green robes and bowties, sat together on one side of James Brown Arena while female students, wearing yellow robes, sat on the opposite side. It's a school tradition.
Addressing those seated, the class' valedictorian, Shannon Marshall, told the crowd they had much to be thankful for and that they had faced tribulations with success. He closed with a quote from former University of South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz: "You were not born a winner, and you were not born a loser. You are what you make yourself to be."
The day's ceremony also included Josey Principal Dr. Ronald Wiggins recognizing outgoing Superintendent Dana Bedden, who oversaw his final Richmond County graduations Wednesday.
"Dr. Bedden, we want to thank you for three wonderful years," he said to applause.
GLENN HILLS HIGH SCHOOL
Sharee Burch, valedictorian for Glenn Hills, told her fellow 197 graduates Wednesday that despite tough financial times, they would make it in the world.
"Today our economy is in a recession, but I feel tomorrow will be a better day," she said.
Among the many watching the ceremony was Deana Mathis, who drove from Edgefield County, S.C., to see her niece, Rodreka Martina Tolbert, receive her diploma.
"This has been a big day," Mathis said, noting how Tolbert's mother died in 2006, but a large contingent of family was there Wednesday to support her.