• Thursday -- Grundy County High, Whitwell High
• Saturday -- Bledsoe County High, Rhea County High, South Pittsburg High, Marion County High, Richard Hardy Memorial School
• May 19 -- Cleveland High
• May 25 -- Gordon Lee High, Dalton High, Morris Innovative High, Ringgold High, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High, Dade County High
• May 26 -- Heritage High
• June 1 -- LaFayette High
• June 2 -- Ridgeland High
In a back room in the McKenzie Arena, Red Bank High School Principal Gail Chuy gave her gowned seniors one last pep talk. The students cheered from their alphabetical lines, but when it came time to enter the commencement hall, austere expressions washed over their faces.
But in the arena, that austerity cracked into wide smiles as parents pushed up against the gate and leaned over railings to cheer on their graduates. Family members clutched flowers and mortarboard-shaped balloons, while air horns threatened to drown out "Pomp and Circumstance."
Red Bank High joined the 16 other Hamilton County high schools that held graduation ceremonies Friday night and Saturday, either at McKenzie, the Tivoli Theatre or Memorial Auditorium. Red Bank students arrived to see the recently graduated Ooltewah senior class and departed to a growing crowd of excited Soddy-Daisy students in a string of ceremonies that began at 9 a.m. and lasted about 12 hours.
Red Bank students marched down the aisle, first at a dignified pace, but more often than not breaking into a brisker speed as they approached the stage, the podium, their diplomas. At times, it seemed only their high heels kept a few girls from running for their certificates.
"My head felt like it was going to explode," said new alumna Chelsea Haile.
"We're ready to peel them off the ceiling," agreed math teacher Deb Weiss.
Pockets of friends and family erupted as students paraded to their seats in a rainbow of cords and sashes signifying the grads' activities and achievements.
After the ceremony, students reflected on walking the stage to receive their diplomas.
"There's like 10 steps to the rest of your life," Rema Mohammad remarked.
Baseball player Raunel Perez remembered Chuy's words to him, "Keep throwing fastballs."
Though excited for graduation, students and parents alike already are looking forward to the future, which means college for many of Red Bank High's new alumni.
"We reached a goal," Perez's mother, Evelyn, said, looking at her son, "The first one."