Fort Hunt High School held its last graduation last night, a pageant of green, gold, white and tears, so it was fitting that one of the speakers was Thomas Ziemba, the last senior to get his diploma.
A few miles away there was another Fairfax County graduation -- this one more upbeat -- at Groveton High School, where Fort Hunt students will go next year.
The County School Board voted in March to merge the two schools and convert Fort Hunt to an intermediate school, over the neighborhood's protests. Groveton will be renamed West Potomac High School.
At Fort Hunt, the jubilance of graduation mixed with the sentiment of shutting down the school. "Don't let the support and stick-togetherness deteriorate," Ziemba told his fellow graduates. "We are a family."
At Groveton, senior salutatorian Leslie A. Argentine said, "To me, graduation always seems so final, and this year it seems even more so."
The Fort Hunt graduation had some special touches to commemorate the last year of the school, which opened in 1964. Alumni were invited back, including Kathy Smoke Pelino, from the first graduating class in 1965. "The first year of the new high school is going to be difficult," she predicted, but she said she thinks students will pull together and make the merged school work.
Eight teachers who had worked at Fort Hunt since it opened were called to the podium for honors and applause. And the 350 high-spirited seniors -- for the first time in years -- marched off the stadium field in an orderly recessional, rather than fleeing wholesale across the grass.
The evening's only slightly sour moment came when television newsman Gordon Peterson, the main graduation speaker, tried to crack a joke about the school -- "No wonder they're closing this joint down" -- and was greeted with a chorus of boos.
Peterson recovered by telling the graduates: "Tell your children your class was so terrific . . . that the officials of the schools knew you had achieved a standard no other class could match, and so they decided to close the damn place down."
And he parted with these words from Art Buchwald: "We of the older generation are giving you a perfect world. Don't screw it up."
At Groveton, 250 graduating seniors enjoyed the last year of such traditions as carrying single red carnations and walking the outdoor track in unison before taking their seats on the football field.
The main Groveton speaker was State Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax), a Washington lawyer who represents the Groveton area.
"Your experiences in this place and your experiences with each other and with the faculty and administration of this school are now history," he said. "They are part of your memories. It is hoped that those memories are pleasant, but whether they are or not they will be unaffected by name changes, alumni organizations and the like."
Some seniors said they were sad that Groveton as they've known it won't continue.
"I still don't feel that it's right for Groveton to change to West Potomac High School," said Vance Ayres, 18, who is considering a career in business.
But many said they were relieved to finally be graduating from high school.
"I'm floating," said Teresa Aeschlimann, 18, who wants to be either a secretary or a telecommunications specialist.
"I feel exuberated, if that's a word," said Yvonne Caron, 18, who will go to work as a Treasury Department secretary.
At Fort Hunt, as firecrackers popped at graduations's end, parent Paul Dux said, "It's really the social fabric that's being torn."
But, he said, if the Fort Hunt faction loses its law suit to prevent the school's closing, he will send his 14-year-old son to West Potomac. "Just because a member of the family dies, everybody else is not going to jump on the funeral pyre," he said.
As usual, the students had the last word and several said that parents are more upset by the school closing than are their children. Chris James, a Fort Hunt junior who will go to West Potomac next year, said he and other children of military families are used to moving around.
He said he is looking forward to going to West Potomac. He added: "More girls -- girls we don't know."