Although Delfino Bautista, 17, said he enjoyed his years at Carson High School, he always had his eye on the end goal.
"Since high school started, I've been waiting, anxious," he said. "I was just ready to graduate."
That day arrived Saturday when more than 450 Carson High School seniors crossed the stage, changing their status from students to alumni.
"I am pumped," said Tyler Nolan, 18. "I am straight up excited. It's a big step in your life."
Edgar Medina, 17, is ready for that step.
"All that work is about to pay off," he said. "It's the day we go out into the world and do what we really want to do."
Members of the Class of 2012 also took time to recognize their classmates who didn't reach that milestone with them.
The ceremony began with a moment of silence for Stephen Anderson and Keegan Aiazzi, who died last year in a scuba diving accident.
Andrew Lawrence, 18, paid tribute to the boys.
"I've been going to school with them since the sixth grade, and I wanted them to graduate with us, so I put their initials on my hat," he explained. "Everyone gets to see them graduate in some way at least."
Cheyenne Litherland, 18, also paid homage to the boys on her hat.
"I wish that they were here with us," she said through tears.
"I miss them every day," added Colin McCulloch, 18.
Senior class president Mary Novak urged her classmates to move past the sadness in their lives.
"Collect things that make you happy, sweet little things you love about yourself," she said in her speech. "Do something completely simple and still have it be the highlight of your day. Pile your head high with good memories."
And for moments of despair, she advised them: "Tears dry faster with the windows rolled down."
Principal Ron Beck congratulated the class on having one of the highest grade-point averages in recent history. More than 60 percent of them, he said, had enrolled in honors or advanced-placement classes. Together, the students earned about $2.5 million in scholarships.
Co-valedictorian William Struble encouraged his fellow graduates to continue to achieve.
"Take chances and dare to do better than your best," he said.