On a hot Thursday night in Ahwatukee Foothills, hundreds of high school seniors gathered on their campuses for what will be the last time for many of them.

Dawned in caps and gowns, students from Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe sat and waited and listened to the names of their classmates as they were read off, one by one.

For Desert Vista students, still heavily on their minds was Pat Quinn, the security guard who died on the school’s track the day before. The Thunder students and community made sure he would be remembered by dawning gold ribbons and selling green shamrocks because, as one student put it, “he was proud of his Irish heritage.” Proceeds are going to his wife or the charity of her choice.

Desert Vista student body president Julia Thatcher said Quinn and his passing will be among the things she will remember most.

“It was so difficult to see that, but we had parents calling all day and asking what they can do to help and what they can do to donate,” Thatcher said. “It’s such a testament to our school and to Pat. It shows we rise up in times of victory and times of hardship. It’s one of the neatest things we have done collectively.”

There were many times over the course of her high school career that she and the student body were able to witness victory, including this year’s state championship football team. But it was among the many accomplishments that they will take going forward into the next stage of life.

“It’s crazy that everything is done,” Thatcher said. “Being able to look at the kids in my class and myself and seeing we’re so successful and so happy and vamped up on life. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. We will continue to grow and prosper. The sky’s the limit for the Class of 2012.”

A few miles away, Mountain Pointe student Paul Song sat with his classmates, reflecting back on their time at the school. For him, it was about the moment, as the first day of college is around the corner, with many more life experiences in front of him.

“I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “Before I go off to college, I am just going to hang out with my friends as much as possible — road trips and traveling around and doing things I couldn’t do in previous years. Whether college is incredibly hard or not, I know I will have these things to lean back on.”

Song and many other students from both high schools will hang their hats on a yearly event that brings thousands of people together and (hundreds) of thousands of dollars for cancer research.

Song worked on the Ahwatukee Foothills Relay for Life all four years and as many others will attest, it is a life-changing experience for those involved.

“It has been the most inspiring and incredible event for me,” he said. “It was so special to be a part of that all four years.”

While some students finished early and others played the last week a bit more relaxed, Song did the opposite. He had a physics project due on his last day, and he saw it as an opportunity to put in one last late night.

“My partner and I pulled an all-nighter because it was our last high school project,” Song said. “Ending it like that was awesome.”

It’s the last summer before college or the workforce or the military and everything else for these high school graduates of Ahwatukee Foothills. But you can bet it was a night that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

“Finishing high school makes me realize that our potential is so great,” Thatcher said. “It shows me and my peers that we are unstoppable.”

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