The sound of umbrellas popping open was as memorable as the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" at one of two high school graduations held in Ventura on Thursday.
Dark clouds hung ominously over Ventura High School's Larrabee Stadium as 350 seniors lined up on a wet field in gold and black robes to begin the 3 p.m. ceremony.
Nobody could remember it ever raining on graduation day.
But the sodden skies turned sunny a few hours later for Buena High School's commencement for 400 seniors, also held outdoors in the campus quad area. The changing weather, however, didn't detract from the two tradition-filled ceremonies.
Members of the Class of '95 hooted, screamed, cheered and sobbed as they picked up diplomas and celebrated the end of 12 years of education. Family and friends savored the excitement of the moment.
It was a particularly freewheeling ceremony at Ventura High, where a gentle but steady rain stopped minutes before student Andrae Robinson opened the proceedings with the national anthem sung in clear, strong tones. One Ventura High graduate turned a cartwheel after picking up her diploma. Another stuffed chocolate bars into the hands of surprised Principal Hank Robertson.
About 50 students draped old neckties over Robertson's shoulders as he handed them diplomas--an apparent reference to his alleged lack of sartorial style. And Charles Kahlsdorf--a football player--picked up the 5-foot, 9-inch, 175-pound Robertson and gave him a bear hug.
The crowd loved it.
In a more serious moment, Associated Student Body President Jeff Mattesich exhorted his peers to look past their own wants and needs to serve the greater cause of society in a powerful speech entitled, "Time to Decide."
"We have all heard the Reebok cliche, 'Life's short, play hard,' " Mattesich said in a booming voice.
"We must change that to, 'Life's short, serve hard.' We need to stop looking to the easy task of playing and learn to sacrifice and learn to serve hard. It's time to decide."
At Buena's graduation, speaker Haady Lashkari thanked his parents and teachers for their support of his education. And Lashkari, the student body president, said he is grateful for a public school system even though some others criticize it.
"For decades, our public schools have put America on the cutting edge," Lashkari said. "Buena students are a product of that system."
As Principal Jaime Castellanos began awarding diplomas, the seniors--dressed in royal blue and black gowns--rose to accept them one by one. Some threw their arms up after getting their diplomas and some did a little dance.
One young man attempted to do a handstand on the stage, but didn't have enough room. Another fell down two steps in front of the stage, drawing a gasp from the crowd, but he got up unscathed.
Other graduates threw corn tortillas into the air like Frisbees--long a Buena tradition--and others bounced a colorful beach ball into the crowd.
After the hourlong ceremony, new graduate Danita Suy quickly found her best friend, Lisa Susman. The two embraced and wiped tears from their eyes. They have known each other since the first grade, 18-year-old Danita said. But now they would part as they went off to different colleges, she said.
"I'm going to miss her," said Lisa, 17, who will attend Cal State Chico in the fall. Danita will attend Ventura College.
"But we did it!" Danita said, looking at her friend. "We're free. And we're finally entering the real world."
* RELATED STORY AND RAIN CHART: B3