AIKEN - The latest arrivals were drenched by a sudden downpour, but the rain didn't dampen spirits at Aiken High School's graduation ceremonies Friday as 241 seniors marked a milestone in their young lives.
Among them were 103 graduating with honors.
With basketball goals raised for the occasion, students marched into a gymnasium packed with proud parents, friends and relatives. Each wore beneath a green graduation robe a white ribbon, pinned over the heart, to honor three from the Class of 2001 who were not there - Jessica Carpenter, who was slain; and Stephen Edwards and Eric Willis, both killed in car wrecks.
Victoria Denise Harris almost didn't make it either. She arrived after her classmates had already marched in, a plastic hospital band around her left wrist. She said she had been at Aiken Regional Medical Centers all day, worried that she might miss her high school graduation because of abdominal pains.
"I would have been mighty upset if I had missed this," she said.
Her mother, Yvonne Harris, also was relieved and couldn't suppress a cheer when her daughter's name was called.
It was a scene played on various stages throughout Aiken County on Friday night, when all seven high schools in the consolidated district sent graduating seniors out into the world.
At Aiken High, valedictorian Jennifer Kirkland reminded her classmates of the responsibility they would take with them - responsibility to their country, their parents, themselves and their faith.
Afterward, Jimmy Larson and J.P. Inabinet found each other in the crowd that milled outside.
The two said they plan to be roommates at the University of South Carolina this fall. Mr. Larson plans to be a business management major and will "try to double minor" in German and accounting.
"You heard that word 'try,' didn't you?" Mr. Inabinet teased. He expects to be out of college with a business degree in marketing four years from now. His friend's ambitions "might take six or seven," he said.
Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.