Thursday night was a night to celebrate for thousands of high school students in southern Arizona.
Several schools were holding graduation ceremonies, including many in the Tucson Unified School District.
For students graduating from Howenstine High Magnet School, however, the evening's commencement ceremony truly represented the end of an era.
High school graduation is such a milestone in our lives, one of the biggest.
It's the essence of bittersweet, saying goodbye to childhood and moving toward adulthood.
On this night, though, it's the school itself that's saying goodbye.
"Class of 2013, please stand," says Howenstine Senior Adviser Colleen Sand.
The 24 graduates of Howenstine High Magnet School are nervous and excited.
This is the rehearsal for their big night in the Tucson Convention Center's Leo Rich Theater.
Howenstine Graduating Senior Chris Union comes up to chat.
It goes like this.
"Yes, ma'am. Sadly, I'm graduating."
"Why sadly?" we ask.
"Uh. I don't think I'm ready for everything. Nah. I was just playing. Yeah. I'm ready!"
"We're just beyond proud. I can't even express to you how proud we are," says the mother of Class Salutatorian Anthony Hauk, Nydia Hauk.
Howenstine was a school for non-traditional students, some of whom have special needs.
Parents especially appreciate what it had to offer.
"He's done outstanding. And he's opened up more and learned more than ever before anywhere else," says Paul Phetterplace whose son is graduating tonight.
But the Howenstine Class of 2013 will be the last.
After 57 years, budget cuts are closing the doors of this unique school.
"It had small classes for kids that need help concentrating like I do," says Graduating Senior Jonathan Haynes.
Jonathan's grandmother, Ruth Archie, shares his concern that other students won't get the opportunity he did.
"I think it's sad because I think there's other kids that could really learn from that school and it's a disadvantage if they can't go," Archie says.
"This is the last for all of us-- not just our seniors. So it's very emotional, very gut-wrenching and difficult," says Colleen Sand.
Perhaps there is some consolation in knowing there can be no greater legacy for Howenstine teachers and staff than the difference they have made in the lives of their students.
"I guess they helped me build self-confidence and they taught me to help me stand up for myself and to just try and do things to my best," says Class Salutatorian Anthony Hauk.
Howenstine seniors joined about 2,800 other TUSD students in receiving their diplomas.
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