COLUMBIA — As a few dozen Rock Bridge High School seniors suited up in green graduation robes in the practice gym at Mizzou Arena, the atmosphere was mixed with nervousness and excitement.
A group of close friends, Micah McElmurry, Stephanie Barnette and Orreshia Chatman, huddled together in anticipation.
“I’m ready to start a new chapter of my life,” McElmurry said. “I’m nervous and anxious because I don’t want to mess up on my day when I walk across the stage. But I’m also excited. I feel a lot of mixed emotions.”
As an administrator coaxed the students to prepare themselves to march, students adjusted each others' caps and hurried to fix their collars before the big moment. Several whispers of “This is it!” could be heard as the students formed their marching lines.
When the procession of graduates marched into the arena, the crowd stood on their feet, applauding and whistling. Before an audience of family and friends, Rock Bridge High School celebrated its 560 graduates Saturday evening in a ceremony at Mizzou Arena.
Retiring Principal Kathy Ritter took the stage to formally congratulate the crowd of graduates for the last time. She commended the class on the numerous honors that students earned throughout the year. Ritter ended her speech by expressing her pride in joining the class of 2010 as a graduate of Rock Bridge.
Ritter’s speech was followed by a quartet, speeches and, finally, the presentation of the class of 2010. Despite Ritter’s request to hold applause until all of the names had been called, each student receiving a diploma was showered with applause, shouts and sometimes, a blow horn.
For Ritter, the graduation was bittersweet.
“I have mixed emotions,” Ritter said. “I think we have a very classy, dignified graduation and this one will, no question, be important and special to me.”
Ritter said she will always look back on the class of 2010 with fond memories.
“This is just an exceptional class,” said Ritter. “They are tremendous scholars and athletically we have broken records and won many district championships throughout the year. And they are just good people – helpful, kind and they have a passion for community volunteering.”
Other faculty members shared her respect for the graduating seniors.
“This is an awesome class,” said senior counselor Jane Piester. “They are very well-rounded and gifted students in academics, arts and athletics, and a lot of the kids just have really good hearts.”
Many students were involved in service organizations throughout their high school careers. One of the valedictorians, Hannah Campbell, was dedicated to philanthropy. Campbell was a member of Rock Bridge Reaches Out, a service organization, as well as a volunteer for the Cedar Creek Riding Center and the Ronald McDonald House.
Campbell, who will attend the University of Southern California in the fall, attributes her involvement and dedication to the school.
“Rock Bridge is an awesome place, there are so many cool people and different places to do different things, so that’s why I wanted to get involved with all of it,” said Campbell. Several other graduates said they enjoyed the closeness they felt at Rock Bridge.
"I loved everybody at Rock Bridge," said Raven Mundy. "They are like a second family, and it's kind of sad leaving them."
Students said they would miss their friends, teachers and the school’s “freedom with responsibility” creed.
"I'm ready to start a new chapter in my life, but I will miss the overall openness of Rock Bridge," said Briana Marsh. "I feel like it really prepared me for what college is going to be like."
For Ritter, the graduation ceremony was a fitting end for the Rock Bridge seniors and her career at the school.
"This is much more than just walking across the stage," Ritter said. "It's our seniors presenting the best of who we are just one final time together."