By Greg Gelpi
A "Nerf war" raged during the Mt. Zion Christian Academy's annual senior trip and illustrates the camaraderie and friendships developed in the close-knit school community.
David Shea Melloy and classmate Michael Wayne O'Shields attended kindergarten together and Friday will be parting ways as they and nine other classmates graduate from the Christian school.
"We're a pretty small bunch, so we know each other well," Melloy says, adding that most of the graduates have been in class together for a number of years. "That's the way it is with the senior class."
And that's the way it was when 10 of the seniors engaged in a "Nerf war" in a mountain chateau in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
"Everyone bought at least $15 to $20 in cheap Nerf toys," Melloy says.
Swapping memories of the emotional "release" from senior activities, stress and college applications, O'Shields shares a few laughs as well.
"The bad part was cleaning up the hundreds and hundreds of darts," he says.
Daniel Phonepaseuth Voravong has been at the school for only a year, but in that time has already built a list of memories and stories he plans to keep long after graduation.
Voravong remembers running through the wooded areas of the Mt. Zion Christian Academy campus, part of the "franticness of a 12th-grader trying to get into college."
"Michael almost fell into the swamp," he says.
The community of the school extends into the classroom as well, the seniors say.
When senior teacher Joe Oliver had his DVD player stolen from his classroom, students and teachers surprised him with a replacement, albeit a replacement that has a quirky way of playing movies with "chipmunk-style" voices on occasion, Voravong says.
Graduation for the academy is 7 p.m. Friday at the school and, as is the school's tradition, will feature slide shows for each of the seniors.
"We're really a small class, so they can do something nice for each one of us," Melloy says.
Slide show presentations flash pictures of the students from baby pictures to senior pictures and moments in between as students reflect on where they've been before they go their separate ways.