As the 1985 graduates of Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville came marching around the track surrounding the football field, relatives and friends rushed to a fence in front of the stands to greet them with clicking cameras.
"It's exciting, it's so exciting," Elena Wigodner kept saying to herself as she, her husband Sherwin Wigodner, and "two rows" of relatives, watched their first child, Randi, graduate.
Yesterday, six high schools in Montgomery County held ceremonies on football fields, in school gymnasiums and at the Kennedy Center and Constitution Hall in Washington. Nine more ceremonies are scheduled for this week.
At Richard Montgomery's ceremony, Heather Hanson, class valedictorian, was preparing to lead her 281 classmates through the rites of graduation, but her thoughts were already miles away.
"To the beach!" said Hanson. "I'm taking off for Rehoboth . . . . "
Honor Society president Steven Parker, who waited with Hanson yesterday in 85-degree heat to end their high school careers, described the feeling he, Hanson and other graduates shared as "senioritis."
"Call it a lack of motivation as graduation gets near," he explained. "I'm ready for this. It will be nice to get away."
At Poolesville High School, Daniel Walker had advice for his son.
"He thought it was all fun, now he's going to find out the fun is over," said Walker, laughing and slapping the back of his son Derrick, after he received his diploma.
Last Wednesday was officially the final day of school for Montgomery seniors.
According to school officials, the number of high school graduates in Montgomery has declined steadily since 1981, when 8,823 students received diplomas, largely because of declining enrollments; the same is true in Prince George's, where 8,656 students graduated in 1981.
Montgomery's 22 high schools are graduating more than 8,000 students in ceremonies that continue through Sunday. For other students, school ends June 18. In Prince George's, 7,575 seniors graduated from 20 high schools in ceremonies held between May 30 and Friday. For others, school ends this week.
Northern Virginia graduations began last Thursday and will continue through June 20. Most District high school graduations will be held Wednesday and Thursday.
For many, the ceremonies marked only a brief respite from academics. About 80 percent of Montgomery graduates and 50 percent of Prince George's graduates are college bound, officials said.
While Ivy League schools are high on the list of many, some officials say a growing number of students have applied to state schools this year, continuing a trend that began three years ago.
"I think financially people are realizing that college tuition is very expensive and that state schools are very capable of educating youngsters just as well," said Charles F. Bready, principal of Winston Churchill High School in Potomac.
The University of Michigan is popular this year after being highly rated in a Newsweek magazine poll, along with the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania, Bready said of his students.
Other students set their sights in a different direction. "In nine days I'm in the Navy," said Richard Montgomery graduate Gregg Hudak. "I'm more worried about graduating boot camp than this."