Even when your school is barely standing, your cap and gown are donated, and your commencement meal is from the Red Cross, graduation is still a celebration.
Well-wishers arrived in Greensburg, Kan., by the busload today to cheer the 25 graduating seniors of the 2007 class of Greensburg High School amid the wreckage of the tornadoes that killed at least a dozen people in south-central Kansas.
The crowd gathered under two large tents on a golf course, the only spot in town not blanketed by debris. The diplomas survived the storm in a vault.
As one student put it, "Not even an F-5 tornado can stop us seniors from finishing our time here at G.H.S."
It was a ceremony short on pomp, given the circumstance. Students simply celebrated the start of their next journey.
Almost all of the graduates are college bound, and some schools have offered to waive tuition in light of the tragedy.
"The first couple weeks, you were just kind of walking around with a numb feeling of shock," said Kelsey Heft, Greensburg High School's co-valedictorian, "but I think the reality is starting to set in."
Some of the students had planned to leave Greensburg behind and never look back. However, they said the past two weeks changed everything.
"We want to see what happens," said graduate ShaRae Wadel. "We want to come back and see how we rebuild and if we rebuild."
Rebuilding will take time, so administrators plan to use mobile classrooms when school resumes in mid-August. They say keeping students in town will keep their families there, too.
"If you've got a school, you're going to have a town," said Randy Fulton, Greensburg High School's principal. "We're going to make it."