Laura Duchet wanted an adventure for her senior year of high school.
Growing up in Germany, she had only read about America in books and seen its actors in movies.
So before her senior year, she said goodbye to her mother and flew across the world to be a student at Hephzibah High School.
“The way the people are here and they way they helped me, it’s been a great experience,” Duchet said.
On graduation day Monday, she stood backstage at James Brown Arena with the other 220 Hephzibah seniors and thought about the past nine months.
In her time in the U.S. she has tasted Southern fried food, gotten to know Elvis at Graceland in Memphis, felt welcomed by her host family and new friends, and heard Southern twangs in real life.
“I don’t want it to end,” said Ducet, who will now return to Germany before deciding where to attend college. “I don’t want to leave America.”
Minutes before the graduates filed into the arena for the 10:30 a.m. ceremony, there were others who also did not want high school to end.
“This is my fourth time about to start crying,” said Kalyn Dixon, wiping her eyes.
Dixon and four friends stood in line holding their name cards and talked about senior week, the best pep rallies and how they didn’t want real life to come just yet.
“Six minutes!” senior Jerrean Hughes then yelled out.
The hundreds of students in robes and tassels screamed. They finished hugging their favorite teachers and friends and heard “Pomp and Circumstance” come over the speakers
“I’m shaking right now,” said Shamara Dunbar, 17. “I feel like I’m about to collapse. I’ve waited so long for this, and it’s here.”
Dunbar took a deep breath and followed her classmates into an arena of cheering voices.