More than 1,500 Columbia County high school graduates received diplomas Saturday in ceremonies at James Brown Arena.
Lakeside High School's about 360 graduates led off, with speakers reminding them of history while sending them out to their next steps.
"Today is the first day of your future," school system Superintendent Charles Nagle said in a speech he also delivered at the day's four other commencements. "The decisions you make today will determine your future."
Salutatorian Sterling Khoi-Nguyen Tran echoed the theme, telling graduates, "We determine our own future. You can make every year your best."
Along the way, valedictorian Joshua Puryear said, everyone should be careful to guard their honor and integrity because regaining them is difficult.
"Don't serve someone else," Puryear said. "They might not have your best interest in mind."
The nearly 220 seniors in Grovetown High School's second graduating class were next.
Salutatorian Veronika Gerya called Grovetown a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities and a place for students to build character and lifelong friendships. Gerya moved to the United States from the Ukraine seven years ago.
Valedictorian Tabitha Colbert said the most important lesson she learned at Grovetown was that the students, teachers and administrators were what made the school special.
"What I hope you do not forget is how we came together and made this school our own," she said.
Evans High School's nearly 380 seniors anxiously chatted and joked backstage before beginning the third graduation ceremony.
"It's totally unbelievable," graduate Jordan Pope said. "I don't think it will hit me until my brother goes to school next year, which will be (at Evans High)."
Valedictorian Paige Yelvington acknowledged the support and knowledge she and fellow graduates received from family, friends and teachers.
"One coach's encouragement could have inspired a student's will to never give up," she said. "A shy freshman could have found his voice in a welcoming lunch table."
Yelvington said the class of 2011 will leave a long-lasting imprint on the school.
"Our class's school spirit has been the glue and unity that will surely be missed after we are gone," she said.
Harlem High salutatorian Heather Grulke said to her about 140 fellow graduates that school spirit resides in each of them.
"We are Harlem, and we do not have to chant it at a football game to know it is true," she said.
Alex Coleman, the school's senior class president, offered some advice to her classmates.
"Grow with each new experience and learn from each mistake," she said.
Coleman closed her speech by paraphrasing Will Ferrell's character in Anchorman : "Stay classy, Harlem graduates."
Columbia County's graduation day ended big, with nearly 400 Greenbrier High School seniors receiving their diplomas.
"Making it here was no small feat for any of us," said valedictorian Amarachi Erondu, who said her classmates' futures are limited only by their ambition.
"I believe that every person here has the potential to make a positive impact," she said.