COAL CITY — As Coal City High School seniors decked in green and white regalia picked up their diplomas at graduation Sunday, they were reminded that the close of one period of life was giving way to a new one.
"This school has made us who we are," said Valedictorian Arielle Piper in her address to the school's 98th graduating class. "This isn't the end, but a new beginning."
The graduating class, their family, friends, faculty and school district officials assembled in the school's gym for the ceremony. In addition to Piper, salutatorians Matthew Halloran and Brandon Wills also had a chance to speak to the group. Both looked back on their time in high school, thanking some of the influential people during their four years. Wills encouraged his peers to continue their success into the future.
"It does not matter what path you take and where you're going," he said. You should never give up, always try your best and do something that you love."
He said graduation is a goodbye for the group, but memories formed during their time together will continue.
"The past four years have been some of the best years of our lives and the memories will never been forgotten," he said. "I wish all of you good luck in whatever choices you make in the future ... remember — Coaler pride never dies."
In her remarks, Piper remembered how the class spent its freshmen year finding their way through not only a new school, but a construction zone.
"We found our way eventually," she said. "We made it, we survived."
She repeated that phrase remembering other difficulties, and said the graduation ceremony was another point where the class as a whole has made it and survived. In closing remarks, she encouraged the class to go into the world, pursue dreams and become who they want to be. She quoted a line from TV show "One Tree Hill" to make her point.
"This is your world. You're here. You matter," she said. "The world is waiting."
Audience members cheered as the students each took their turn crossing the stage, shaking hands with officials and receiving their diploma cover and, later, moving their tassels and taking part in tossing their caps.
After the ceremony's recessional, Erin Scerine posed for photos with family members in the gym. While she finished classes in December and has already started a cosmetology program, she said it was nice to join her graduating class one last time.
"I'm really proud of all of our class," she said. "I'm just really looking forward to the future."
While she's excited to move forward, she said it's a strange feeling to be done with high school.
"It's really weird to think that we're not going to be seeing each other again," she said.
Across the gym, Nick Sayles said the graduation was the culmination of hard work from him and his classmates. Sayles, who plans to attend Joliet Junior College and transfer to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to study to become an airline pilot or engineer, said the day was one of mixed emotions.
"Just all over the place," he said.
His father, Mike, said he was very proud of his son.
"I remember bringing him home from the hospital — I can't believe he's graduating," he said. "It goes by quick."
Graduates, surrounded by family and friends, also spilled into the hallway in groups, talking and taking pictures and exchanging hugs.
Michael McLey, a graduate who will join the Navy, could be found with his family. He said the ceremony brought on different emotions — initial nervousness in the beginning faded into sadness.
"I was holding back tears at the end," he said.
Overall, McLey said it's a lot to take in at once.
"I'm in shock — it hasn't sunk in yet," he said.
His mother, MarySue, said the day was emotional for her as well.
"I'm just excited and very happy for the whole class of 2012," she said. "I wish everyone the best in their future endeavors."