Trailed by billowing gowns and photo-snapping parents, hundreds of east Ventura County teen-agers accepted handshakes and diplomas Thursday and became high school graduates.
At several of the four ceremonies, the traditional anxiety about the future was compounded by anxiety about the threatening skies.
"We have weathered four years of high school--today, just the weather," said Darren Noy, a Thousand Oaks High School valedictorian. Many parents toted umbrellas to the outdoor service along with their graduation programs and video cameras.
While the scenes and advice were similar across the region, each graduation had something special to offer.
At Thousand Oaks High School, which boasts an exceptional Japanese program, the 485 graduates included Aaron Shoemaker, who studied Japanese there for 3 1/2 years.
At Moorpark High School, 248 graduates paused to remember three students who died before they could finish their studies.
At Conejo Valley High School, a continuation school in Thousand Oaks, 30 students received diplomas despite their obstacles.
And at Oak Park High School, the ceremony included a display of baby pictures of the 141 graduates.
Emotions ran the gamut. "Some people are very excited about it. Some people are scared out of their wits. I'm one of the latter," said Shoemaker, 18, whose father flew from Houston to attend the graduation and whose grandparents drove hours from Northern California.
On graduation night, Shoemaker planned to join 13 busloads of classmates for a trip to Disneyland. After that, though, his plans were less certain: to continue with language study at some school, maybe near Valencia.
For parents, pride was the feeling most commonly mentioned.
"I'm real happy," Lloyd Ramey said as he watched his eldest daughter graduate from Thousand Oaks High. "I'm glad she stuck with it long enough to get here."
Margie Ramey, Lloyd's wife and the mother of graduate Shannon Ramey, said the joy was mixed with worries. She described herself as "extremely nervous" about the fate of her 18-year-old daughter, who in two weeks will leave choir practice and the yearbook office behind to move to Palm Springs, where she will attend college.
At Moorpark High, valedictorian Andrew Philip, a National Merit scholar who led the school to a fourth-place finish in the state Academic Decathlon, spoke of friendship and achievement.
He, like each of the speakers there, remembered fellow students Kyle Gulbrain, Jesus Corraleo III and Shane Umberger, who died in separate incidents before finishing high school.
Donna Gulbrain, whose son collapsed on a basketball court and died in 1993, said the gesture was much appreciated.
"I think it is really beautiful," she said. "You never want to turn such a happy event into a memorial, but I think by doing this, they are saying their goodbys to the boys. They are saying, 'We remember you, but it's time to move on.' "
At Conejo Valley High, keynote speaker Brian J. Back, a lawyer and president of the Thousand Oaks Rotary Club, told students to have the right attitude.
"You can't roller-skate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you've a mind to," Back said, quoting a Roger Miller song and explaining that if the students set their minds to it, they will be happy and accomplish things.
At Oak Park High, students continued a 12-year tradition of showing pictures of the graduating seniors as babies--sitting in high chairs, being held in their mothers' arms or decked out in football helmets twice the size of their heads.
The nostalgia of childhood served as a topic for senior speaker Robyn Bramson.
Taking a cue from Abraham Lincoln, she began: ". . . Eighteen years ago, our parents brought forth on this Earth a new life, conceived in a VW Bug and committed that we would graduate from this high school."
Times correspondent Lisa M. Bowman contributed to this story.
* RELATED STORY AND RAIN CHART: B3