It was Friday night, and you could feel the adrenaline emanating from their bodies, minds and mouths, aware as they were that the end was at hand.
"Grades are almost inconsequential at this point," one girl said. And classes, clubs and school, added another. But not friends, they all agreed. They're here to stay, "Like rock 'n' roll," observed another.
They are a clique of about 10 friends, all seniors from George Mason Junior/Senior High School in Falls Church, who, like many extended families at other across the country, are about to part ways. Their core is hard, their relationships permanently etched in their youth.
"Maybe it's the differences that bring us together," Steve Martin suggested. When they do get together it's often in pairs, trios or subgroups. Occasionally it's in a big way. Like at Hughes Melton's parents' 600-acre farm in Farmville.
In fact, for many seniors at George Mason, June 20, commencement day, precedes the 150-mile trek to the farm, followed by beach week in Ocean City, Md., a traditional George Mason celebration.
"We're talking major party," said Peter Droujinsky, the famed icon of the group who occasionally dons pajamas to go to school but almost always wears his jean jacket with a racoon skin taped to the back. "You wanna touch it?" he asked.
Although about 86 expected graduates and friends will show up at these events, Melton, Droujinsky and Martin will to a large extent cling to about seven other seniors with whom they have shared the comings and goings of student council, classwork, the dating game, life, happiness and the pursuit of achievement throughout their high school days.
While fun times on the beach are in the offing, a slightly somber if not sad tone permeates the group, for the end of the trip marks the departure of Greg Huffman, who will launch his career at the Naval Academy at the end of the month.
Huffman, who is affectionately regarded as the "quiet brain," put it succinctly: "I'm excited about graduating, but I'm sort of depressed about leaving so soon afterward."
Renee Leavitt, who plans to study engineering or computer science at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., said, "I don't know how often I'd want to go back and walk around the school halls, but the idea of leaving is starting to bother me. I haven't had a lot of close friends until recently. A lot of my friends moved away," she said.
But Wayne Hunt, the only bearded member of the group, is clearly ready to blow this scene. "I'm just a little fed up with the school routine," said the guitar, piano and drum player, who hopes to scale the music ladder while attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the fall.
"I've been in student council, played football, was pretty involved. But after a while you just don't want to hang out there George Mason. "
Huffman said of his friends, "I think my relationships with them are going to change a great deal. I think I'll keep in touch with them, but it will never be the same."
Still, most of them believe that winter and spring recesses will bring reunions like those in the movie "The Big Chill."
"One characteristic of the group is that everyone looks out for everyone else," said Melton, who will leave Aug. 24 for football camp and Washington & Lee University on a ROTC scholarship. "It takes a long time to get along with people, and it takes even longer to get to know them."
Indeed, most of them have known each other, though not always intimately, since their sixth grade, the first year that George Mason introduced sixth graders into the junior-senior school.
Laura Jacomet (regarded as the social organizer) and Karen Seal, who will both attend James Madison University in Harrisonburg in the fall, have known each other since the fifth grade.
"I'm glad we're going off to the same school, but I'm glad we're not rooming with each other," Seal said. "I've heard of too many friendships destroyed because they couldn't stand each other after living together."
Droujinsky, who gets around on his multicolored skateboard ("I never go anywhere without it"), will be sitting out college next year, though he said, "I think I'll probably go eventually . I'm really interested in architecture. I've been taking drafting for the past three years. It's killer stuff."
That is to say, he really likes it.
Martin said he too is uncertain about what kind of career to pursue, but he will take several classes at Northern Virginia Community College and "maybe" study computer science.
Although Droujinsky and others agree that "this is a really tight group," distinctions abound. Some want to make piles of money, others enough to get by on. Some are into the prestige of name schools, others want to be closer to home. Some like the pop group Dead Kennedys, others prefer George Thorogood.
But despite their differences they share something that their "Big Chill" elders would have undoubtedly sneered at. "We don't talk much about social or political issues," someone said in the midst of beer-drinking games like Thumper and Quarters.
In fact, many of them later said that the Friday night gathering was one of the few occasions where they seriously talked about heady stuff like President Reagan, abortion, homosexuality and war. "It seemed like a college class," Leavitt said.
Most of them agree that Reagan is doing a pretty good job. "I don't think I could do much better," Droujinsky said.
"I guess we just go out to have fun," said Karen Cohen, who intends to study agriculture at Clemson University in South Carolina next fall.
When it came to school, however, many of them played sports and joined clubs, student government and more clubs. They were, so they say, keenly aware that the longer the list of activities, the better were their chances of getting where they wanted to go.
This year alone Jacomet was the president of the senior class, sang in the chorus, played basketball and was on the yearbook staff. Huffman was a member of student council and the key club. And Melton, in additon to being student council president, played on the football team, was a member of American Field Service and tutored students. In addition, all three were in the National Honor Society.
Droujinsky, when asked why he isn't attending college next year, responded, "What's the rush?" Perhaps a relevant, if not poignant, question for his group mates.
Melton, an admitted high-achiever, said the pressure to do it well and do it fast is everywhere. "Grades are stressed so much that it goes in one ear and stays there long enough for the test. Parents, colleges, administrators -- they all stress grades."
Leavitt sounded determined when she said, "I know engineering and computer science are very promising from what I've read about future technologies. It's a big moneymaker. I do want to make lots of money because I do want to live well."
"I think I have a lot more direction than most kids my age," Leavitt continued. Yet, she added, "Although I'm looking foward to college, it makes me think about being an adult, which is something I don't look foward to."
Huffman said, "I suppose the instability of the economy had something to do with my decision" to enter the academy, though he added that the attraction of "seeing new sights is appealing."
Hunt said he believes that making music won't be his primary source of income because "I'll just be playing avant-garde music with a band that I enjoy. I think I'd make a good salesman," he said. "You gotta be able to sell yourself in this world."
And the selling begins two weeks from tonight.