It was 5 p.m. Thursday inside the Glendale High School Auditorium, and the nervous chatter was growing among a sea of 824 red and black gowns.
The principal, associate principal and an assistant principal — having been promoted to other positions in the district just a few days earlier — knew exactly what the young crowd was going through as everyone took their seats.
Hundreds of family members were streaming into the stands of Moyse Field outside.
“I don’t know if it’s hit me yet,” 18-year-old Christina Der Sarkissian said.
In 45 minutes, it would.
The high school band opened with “Pomp and Circumstance,” Principal Katherine Fundukian praised the class of 2008 for its ability to “overcome any obstacle,” class President Gervea Ornopia lauded the mark left by her classmates and salutatorian Kimberly Mei-Ling Terry and valedictorian Jennifer Thang basked in the hard-earned glory of their academic achievements.
These events were expected.
The level of anxiety brought on by the one-hour wait was not.
“I have been trying to find different ways to hold back the tears,” Fundukian said in the auditorium as the seniors prepared to line up and begin their last march as high schoolers.
The students received last-minute instructions. The tassel hangs on the right side. Don’t throw the hats, they can take an eye out on their return flight. Behave on the field. Zip the gowns all the way up.
At 5:45 p.m., the students left their rows and lined up at the exit.
This was where the adrenaline, the hugging, the “eeking” and the whistling rose like a wave among the graduates.
A few minutes later, with the sounds of the crowd audible in the distance, Fundukian started the march forward. In these steps, the seniors seemed ready to burst.
“I can feel the people chanting my name,” one student yelled.
As they marched in two parallel single-file lines around the back end of the campus, there was just enough time in between nervous goofing off for some last-minute reflection.
“You don’t expect to feel like this,” 17-year-old Andrey Abramyan said.
But as the graduates paused at the northeast entrance to the field — a crowd of family members and Mylar balloons mingling in the stands before them — the expected became reality, and with it, relaxed smiles spread through the line.
Finally, the tradition of a high school graduation program was starting. No need for the anxiety. Just follow instructions.