By Ed Brock

It was a day for dancing, a day for singing, a day for the birds to dodge hundreds of mortarboard hats tossed into the air in celebration. It was graduation day. The class of 2004 for Jonesboro High School, North Clayton High School, Forest Park High School, Morrow High School and Riverdale High School received their diplomas in separate ceremonies around the county. Family and friends braved rain, heat and crowded conditions to watch their loved ones transition from childhood to the "real world."

Jonesboro High School

As would be the case later in the day for Riverdale High School graduation ceremony, traffic was backed up for nearly a mile on U.S. Highway 19/41 as guests for the Jonesboro High School ceremony filed into Twelve Oaks Stadium in Lovejoy. It was 10 a.m. but the heat of the day was already causing most of the crowd to transform their programs into fans.

Around 360 students were to receive their diplomas in the ceremony.

Jonesboro High School valedictorian Hillary Hibben's address, based on the theme of the "Three Rs" of education, reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, spoke volumes to graduate Amanda Hasty of Forest Park.

"I think she took an old tradition and related it to what we're going through," Hasty said. "As we get older we realize that those are not the most important thing."

What is most important, Hasty said, are responsibility and having no regrets.

In the audience for Hasty, who is bound for Clayton College & State University next year, were her Uncle Michael Bentley of Gadsden, Al., and her mother, Glenda Hasty, along with other family members. Just graduating is one of her daughter's proudest achievements, Glenda Hasty said.

"She is a college prep with distinction, we're proud of that, too," Hasty said.

Latricia Brown drove in from Stone Mountain to watch her sister Charday Jackson of Jonesboro graduate. She also said getting her diploma was her sister's most important achievement.

"Graduation day, this is what it's all about," Brown said.

Jackson, who plans to study cosmetology and design at Savannah Technical College said she felt "good, excited, free."

Her favorite part of high school life was Senior Days at the end of the year, a time when the seniors have picnics and other gatherings.

"That's one of the things I'll miss, just being around my classmates," Jackson said. "You feel so comfortable around your classmates."

North Clayton High School

It was standing room only on one side of Tara Stadium in Jonesboro as Yolanda Cheatham of Newnan came to see her nephew Derrick Deon Black graduate from North Clayton High School.

"I don't think it's fun," Cheatham said of the crowded condition. "But we're adapting. We're going to walk to the other side (of the stadium)."

And it was worth the effort to see Black get his diploma, Cheatham said.

"He worked hard all of these years," Cheatham said. "Now he's graduated and he's going into the (U.S.) Marines."

Down in the stands, Pat Wright of Riverdale came to see her son Allen Davenport graduate.

"It was a long road but we made it," Wright said.

On the field, the more than 280 graduates danced and chanted as they received their diplomas.

"We're just happy to get out," said Shawnte White who plans to study nursing at Clayton College.

Valedictorian Siritta Chansy said she was feeling "relieved, thrilled and victorious."

In her address to the class Chansy stressed the importance of each generation striving to accomplish more than the one before.

"As long as we live we will encounter a few potholes in our lives," Chansy said. "We must work at filling in the holes with a lasting material ? That material should consist of diligence and perseverance. It should involve acquiring the best education you can get, making friends with positive people, having a good role model, setting a goal to pursue and remaining focused on that goal."

Forest Park High School

Saturday's thunderstorms hit hard as guests were still coming into the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center in Morrow for the Forest Park High School ceremony. The guests filled the auditorium and as the ceremony got underway police and school officials had to start turning away latecomers.

Valedictorian Xuan Thanh Le-Nguyen, who will go on to study microbiology at Yale University, said before the ceremony that she was nervous, both about the graduation and what would come after.

Uncertainty was an emotion many of her 210 classmates probably felt as they moved into the next stage in their life, and in her address Le-Nguyen urged them to make the right choices in their lives.

"I am hopeful that the choices you make, whether perceived today as good or bad, will ultimately lead you to a happy life," Le-Nguyen said.

Her fellow graduate Antonio Henry said he was happy to be graduating, but there were things about high school life that he would miss.

"My friends in lower classes and the teachers and coaches," said Henry, bound for the State University of West Georgia in Carrollton.

Walter Eric was overjoyed to watch his daughter Meona Brechelle Scovil graduate.

"She's already pre-prepped for nursing. She's already taken classes in school," Eric said.

Scovil's stepfather Frederick Lee was just as proud.

"She's one of two. I've got another (child) in Albany who graduated last weekend," Lee said.

Morrow High School

Cora Lampkin of Morrow made some last minute adjustments to her daughter Cherrise Lampkin's gold graduation robe in the parking lot of Tara Stadium where the younger Lampkin and over 300 of her classmates were about to say goodbye to Morrow High School.

"I'm glad that we made it through," Cora Lampkin said. "Actually I'm sad that my little girl isn't a little girl anymore, she's a little lady."

Cherrise Lampkin said graduation was a relief.

"It's sad but, you know," she said, adding that she hoped to go to either Dalton State College in Decatur or Albany State University to study psychology.

Another Morrow High School graduate's mother, Helene McKay of Ellenwood, also said she was very proud of her daughter Taneisha McKay who planned to join the U.S. Air Force after graduation.

"That's two down and two to go," Helene McKay said.

Baseball player Thomas Williams said there wasn't much he'd miss about high school.

"I'm ready to get out of high school and go to college," said Williams, who plans to study physical education at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.

Standing by his side, fellow graduate Tru Dang said he would go to Georgia Tech to study electrical engineering.

"I feel good. My mamma's going to be proud," Dang said before the ceremony.

The Morrow high class of 2004 had reached a crossroads, valedictorian Henry Swofford said in his address to the class, and they would go on to a new life of their own creation, making their own choices.

"When we leave here tonight, we will leave with more power and responsibility than we ever deemed possible," Swofford said. "We will leave here as adults."

Riverdale High School

Before moving on to their future, the 330 graduates of Riverdale High School paused in silence to remember one of their classmates who would never have a future. Marcus Johnson, 17, was shot and killed in February when a gunfight broke out in the parking lot of Atlanta's Club NV. Johnson, who ran track and played basketball and football, was hanging out with friends and had nothing to do with the fight.

Despite that tragedy, the members of the graduating class were ready to go.

"I'm very excited. I'm ready to go out into the world and go to college," said Candace Lowe as she walked onto the field at Twelve Oaks Stadium.

Lowe planned to study nursing. Other graduates had other plans.

"I'm going to Fort Valley State University to play football," said Chris Mingo.

Graduate Brandon Gleaton's mother was proud, happy and relieved that her son would graduate and go on to Gordon Junior College in Barnesville.

Marcus Elliott came in from Auburn University in Alabama where he is a graduate student to see his cousin Jennifer Wilmer graduate.

"It's a long time coming. It's the first of many more accomplishments in her life," Elliott said.

The students would take a precious treasure with them, honor student Thai Truong said in giving the class reflection. That treasure was the memory of their experiences, both good and bad, and it was a treasure nobody could take, Truong said.

"When we entered Riverdale High School we were little seeds planted in a foundation," Truong said. "As the years went by our seeds sprouted."

Valedictorian Sovi Vann said in her address that the four years since they entered high school seemed like only four months.

She urged her classmates to set goals for their future lives.

"In order to achieve our goals we not only have to make plans, we have to put them into motion as well," Vann said. "If we believe we can do it we will succeed."