Seated in the Springstead High School gymnasium Tuesday just minutes before her 7 p.m. graduation, Jody Sershen was feeling very cool, very calm and very collected. "It feels just like another school event to me," the 17-year-old senior said.
Suddenly, assistant principal Susan Duval started barking orders, and the dozens of rows of blue- and red-gowned students bolted to attention.
"Row 1, let's go," she ordered, as two neat rows of students began the long march from gym to football field.
Suddenly, reality sank in.
"Oh my God, here we go. It's starting to hit me," Jody said with a gasp.
Luckily, like all of the 300 seniors _ the school's 13th graduating class _ Jody was seated alphabetically with all the other S's for companionship, including friends Diana Schauer and Denise Scalf.
The three girls have been sharing the same homeroom since they started Springstead in ninth grade.
"New shoes, new pantyhose, new earrings, pictures and bobby pins," Diana said, reeling off the items she had to buy for graduation.
Meanwhile, Jenny Szelc, another "S" who had shared the same homeroom with the three girls every year but one, was complaining good-naturedly about her gown.
"We look like football players and cows," she laughed, adjusting a shoulder pad and pointing to the billowing robe.
"And you can't iron them, either."
Out on the football field under a cloud-studded sky, the scene resembled a major-league football championship more than a high school graduation.
Strung along the low, chain-link fence were dozens of amateur video camera operators studiously filming the scene as the long lines of students passed through the wooden arch and into their seats.
Class valedictorian Randy Rouse encouraged classmates to build a better future, while salutatorian Deepika Nimmagadda said they might feel invincible now, but that the world will look a lot more serious four years from now when they graduate from college.