A day after hundreds of people gathered at Santa Monica College to mourn the loss of those slain in a gunman's rampage, thousands of students, their teachers and their family members returned to celebrate a graduation.

For the most part, the commencement ceremony Tuesday at Corsair Stadium carried on like any graduation would. Students in royal blue caps and gowns streamed into metal bleachers to the sound of "Pomp and Circumstance" while friends and family waved hysterically, their cameras snapping all the while.

But President Chui L. Tsang's opening remarks, and just about every speech that followed, nodded to the tragedy that shook the campus community.

On Friday, John Zawahri killed two of his family members then rampaged through Santa Monica on his way to the college, police said. Before officers fatally shot the gunman, he killed Carlos and Marcela Franco and Margarita Gomez. Each had ties to the school, and Tsang spoke kind words about all three to open the ceremony.

After a moment of silence, and a speech from a local monsignor, speakers took turns acknowledging the tragedy, but focused mostly on the accomplishments of the grads. Many praised their courage in the wake of the shooting. Some students, they said, took finals Monday.

USC President C.L. Max Nikias, the commencement speaker, called the students' graduation "a milestone archived in a time of trial."

"It is a mark of our times that milestones that are to be celebrated are so often accompanied by sadness and uncertainty -- sometimes on the other side of the world and sometimes in our own backyards and our on communities," he said. "These are the times that you have inherited."

Soon after Nikias finished his speech, the students stood, and their president certified their work. As the first group of students walked toward the stage, a cheer rose up in the stands.

"Proud to be?" someone yelled -- and after a trying five days, the graduates screamed back in unision:

"SMC!"

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matt.stevens@latimes.com