Hundreds of beige pamphlets waved rapidly in front of perspiring necks and faces in the gymnasium at Essex County College on June 20.
The temperature reached the mid 90s throughout the day, and only simmered to the mid 80s in the evening.
“It is hot in here,” said an older woman wearing a purple wrap dress to her knees, waving the pamphlet, or program, to a woman seated next to her.
At 5 p.m. sharp, the sea of beige pamphlets that had acted as fans turned into signaling devices.
Parents, relatives, friends and others waved their pamphlets vigorously in the hope of catching the attention of one of the roughly 385 graduates who marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” at the 125th Columbia High School commencement.
Cheers, applause and whistles filled the auditorium until all the graduates were standing in front of their designated seats, and the stuffy, hot gymnasium was no longer a concern.
“We got to high school and discovered our individuality,” Keri Hoovler, president of the CHS Student Council, told her classmates, adding that the Class of 2012 was so different and diverse that “we are all unified” in a way.
“Students are taking action,” she noted. “Having the ability to speak up gives all students the ability to succeed.”
Superintendent of Schools Brian Osborne, CHS Principal Lovie Lilly and School Board president Beth Daugherty — who has had three children graduate from Columbia — also gave speeches. All told the graduating seniors they were “proud” of their accomplishments and wished them “luck” in their future endeavors. Students were reminded of the importance of education by Osborne, who encouraged them to “create and innovate.”
A retrospective video was shown on the big screens, the choir performed, and smiling graduates received their diplomas — some with a celebratory dance.
“Education is ultimately how you make sense of the world,” Osborne noted, “and your place in it.”