HUDSON — Orange wristbands.
You couldn't help but notice them on the arms of several Hudson High seniors Friday night as they prepared for their final act together as the Class of 2009. They were the teens' last, silent protest over the absence of three friends and classmates barred from walking over a senior prank gone awry.
The class prided itself on being "like family," and many felt wounded that three popular members — Chris Jennett, Anthony Siciliano and Melvin Velez — couldn't participate at graduation.
In the end, though, their pleas and rallies didn't win a reprieve for the boys who commandeered the school public address system on the last day of school. The boys' names appeared in the evening's program, but their names weren't read, their chairs weren't left empty.
It was, instead, a celebration for the 281 seniors who came to the school gym in their cherry red caps and gowns, surrounded by family and friends who snapped photos, blasted air horns and cheered excitedly as their names were called to receive their diplomas.
"It feels amazing," said Emilio Rivera, who strutted across the stage to hoots and hollers. "We've grown up since middle school, and we're all graduating together. It's like family."
Elizabeth Smith called the electric atmosphere "crazy."
"This is the last time the Class of 2009 will be together at Hudson High," she said. "I'm ready for the future."
Chris Sikora said the night was exciting, yet also sad.
"I know the future is going to bring great things," he said. "But I'm going to miss being with all my friends."
As they waited for the processional into the gym, the students chanted, clapped and did the wave. A few leaders passed out the orange wrist bands even as everyone was lining up to head out.
No one really mentioned the three boys who weren't there, even as they attached their names to their wrists. They were too charged up in the moment.
Then came the main event. Nobody was going to disrupt that.
The speeches went just as planned, with talk about how the future is theirs for the taking. The diplomas got distributed. The tassels got turned. Confetti blasted into the air.
Afterward, some kids headed home. Some to parties. Some to dinner.
One group set course for Anthony Siciliano's house, where he and Chris Jennett sat waiting for their graduation without them to be over so they might celebrate, too.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.