Grand County High School math teacher Ed DeFrancia greets students before they receive their diplomas Thursday, May 31. The high school had 99 seniors graduate. (Tom Haraden/Moab Sun News)

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

This C.S. Lewis quote set the stage for the graduation of Grand County High School’s Class of 2012 last Thursday, May 31. On the back lawn of the high school, an audience of friends and family gathered to watch 99 high school seniors take their first steps into the adult world.

After the high school band played a prelude and Boy Scout Troop 802 presented the national and state flags, the soon-to-be graduates walked down the lawn in pairs, dressed in red and white caps and gowns and decked out in leis, awards and glitter.

As they took their place in the stands by the stage, Zak Hazlett, student body president and graduating senior, welcomed his classmates and the audience. He described the last 13 years of school as a “preface” to their adult lives.

Then, three school district retirees were honored: Mike Arehart, a social studies teacher at the middle school is retiring after 30 years; Glee Parriott, an art teacher in grades four through six, is retiring after 23 years; and Superintendent Margaret Hopkin is retiring after 33 years.

This year’s Circle of Honor recipient was announced. The award honors a community member, who has helped the high school. As presenter Donna Brownell said, it came as a surprise to no one that retired high school guidance counselor Peggy Nissen received the award. Nissen worked tirelessly to help thousands of high school students for more than 30 years, retiring last year. She accepted the award with tearful gratitude and thanked the students for all they taught her over the years.

Salutatorian Spencer Smith framed his speech with a quote from his dad, “Life is the sum of your experiences.” To him, that means taking risks and doing what makes you happy. He encouraged his class to respect everyone’s search for happiness and to live with no regrets, because, in the words of rap musician Lupe Fiasco, “I can’t take back the words I never said.”

The musical theme continued through valedictorian Udit Bhavsar’s speech, when he sang a verse of “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer, to general amusement. The song encourages people to remain strong and upbeat during tough times. He thanked his class and the community for accepting him when he first moved to Moab during his freshman year. He spoke of all the challenges and memories yet to come for the class of 2012 and encouraged them to face the future with courage, hope and endurance. He closed his speech with Star Trek’s Vulcan farewell, “Live long and prosper.”

Hazlett joined fellow seniors Tressa Franklin, Caleb Holyoak, Brooklyn Richards, Rachel Garrett and Rosalie Stiles in singing “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack.

This year’s commencement speaker was Aubrey Holderness, who taught 7th grade history to many of the graduates. He encouraged the class to take pride in their past, present and future. He spoke about explorer Don Juan de Onate’s many journeys and the lessons he learned from each of them. Holderness compared the graduates to explorers and reminded them to learn from their mistakes as they take their first steps into the future.

He gave them five tips to help them on their journeys. One – “When you choose your behavior, you choose your consequences” – was a quote that had been prominently displayed in his history classroom.

“I congratulate each and every one of you for what you are,” he said. “I’m crazy about each of you.”

Principal Steve Hren recommended the graduation of the class of 2012 and Superintendent Hopkin accepted and wished the graduates luck before they each took the traditional path across the stage and through the 8-foot-tall red G to receive their diplomas. They returned to their seats, moved the tassels on their mortarboards from one side to the other, and then exploded party poppers and sprayed silly string as “2012” by Jay Sean played.

Following the recession march, graduates, family and friends all gathered in the crowded commons of the high school for hugs, pictures and congratulations.