They've been through 12 years of school and countless hours of homework and cramming for tests.

So who could blame students from the Class of 1999 as they ran, danced and, in one notable example at the Stonewall Jackson High ceremony, did a cartwheel across the stage while collecting their diplomas?

"I am so excited. I'm going to miss this school, but this is like the greatest moment of my life!" said a breathless Shaka Barnes, 18, a newly minted graduate of Stonewall Jackson. Shaka will attend Longwood College in the fall.

His mother, Lorna, added as she snapped pictures: "I've got one word: hallelujah."

Stonewall Jackson and Brentsville District high schools held their ceremonies at Nissan Pavilion on Thursday evening. Hylton High School also graduated its seniors Thursday, on campus.

The other high schools -- Gar-Field, Osbourn Park, Potomac and Woodbridge -- held ceremonies yesterday.

Graduation speakers quoted a variety of inspirations, such as Helen Keller, e.e. cummings, Dr. Seuss and "Life's Little Instruction Book." They thanked God, teachers, administrators, parents.

"I'd also like to thank Juan Valdez for his Colombian contributions to my caffeine habit," added Robert Knape, 18, valedictorian for Stonewall Jackson. Robert will continue his coffee habit at the University of Virginia in the fall.

They also spoke poignantly of what their high school years meant to them.

"Our class would not be the same without any one of us," said Katherine Andrews, 17, senior class president at Stonewall. She plans to attend Marymount University.

"We will always be the Class of 1999, the best of the last," said salutatorian Elisabeth Williams, 18, bound for the College of William and Mary.

Belle S. Wheelan, president of Northern Virginia Community College, gave lighthearted addresses to both Brentsville and Stonewall Jackson's classes.

To Brentsville graduates, she said: "Thirty-one years ago, I sat where you're sitting now. One of the memories I don't have is who my commencement speaker was. I hope I fare better with you than my commencement speaker did with me," she said, to laughter.

Wheelan reminded the graduates at Stonewall that 80 percent of jobs today require some extra training after high school.

"So I got news for you folks. Enjoy the party tonight, because it's over tomorrow," also drawing applause from the crowd.

The former students at both schools were ready to take her advice -- about enjoying the moment.

Eric Heidenreich, 17, pumped his fists in the air as he walked across the Nissan Pavilion stage. "I'm just glad to be out, you know?" said Eric, a Brentsville graduate. "It just doesn't seem to be happening."

Eric said he may go on to technical school after graduation.

Seventeen-year-old Patricia Galloway hugged her principal for long seconds after she received her diploma.

"I'm thinking, `finally!'," said Patricia, who also attended Brentsville and plans to go to Hampton University in the fall. "I don't want to cry because I'm so happy."

John Cruz, 18, and a new graduate of Stonewall Jackson, said he wasn't thinking about anything.

"I'm just happy," said John, embracing his relatives, teachers and friends, one after another.

His plans after graduation?

"I'm going to go home and get some sleep. I've missed quite a few days," he said.

CAPTION: Belle S. Wheelen, above, president of Northern Virginia Community College, talks to Stonewall Jackson High School's graduating seniors at commencement about their futures and the responsibilities that await them. Stonewall Jackson graduate Shaka Barnes, left, waves to his well-wishers in the audience.

CAPTION: Stonewall Jackson High School graduate Willa Suter hugs schoolmate Stephen Turner. Their ceremony was Thursday evening in the Nissan Pavilion.