Rather than hurry after graduation, Harlem High School turned its football field into a party setting Friday night.
Graduates, family members and friends congregated while music played from the loudspeaker after they set themselves apart from the rest of the weekend's Columbia County graduations. Rather than go the standard route of a ceremony at James Brown Arena, Harlem chose to have its commencement outside on its football field, the first at the school since 1982 and the first at its current location.
"I was in on making it happen, I'm glad it actually happened," said senior class vice president Ben Gardner.
Tabitha Osborne, the senior class secretary who helped the other senior class officers push through the outdoor graduation, echoed the sentiment.
"It feels more like home here, Osborne said. "James Brown Arena feels rushed."
The 173 graduates took the field in front of a standing-room-only crowd at 7 p.m. with a blazing sun beaming down and when the last name was read a little over an hour later, the sun was dropping below the treeline with a full moon taking its place.
Speeches from class president Hannah Price, salutorian Shepherd and valedictorian Sean Spurlin ranged from insightful to witty to self-deprecating, but all touching on a central theme of looking forward to the future.
"We share one thing in common, we are here today reminiscing on our great times together and enthusiastically looking forward to moving on to something," said Spurlin.
In his last round of graduations after 24 years in the county school system, superintendent Charles Nagle imparted wisdom one last time.
"My advice to you is to make a plan and set your goals," said Nagle. "Today is the first day of your future."