KINGMAN - The Class of 2009 understands they are graduating into an uncertain future: A slumping economy, a burst housing bubble and major corporations folding all around them.
With high school behind her, "All I need to do now is get into the business world and jump-start my career with a great American company like Chrysler or GM," joked Sarah Snelling, valedictorian for this year's graduating seniors at Kingman Academy High School.
Those graduating Thursday night acknowledged the uncertain future ahead of them but said this particular group of students is already well known for breaking stereotypes.
"We strived not to be the best and not to be the worst but the most unique," said Muhammad Tariq. "A class with teachers so privileged to teach us that when we left middle school three teachers left with us to teach high school."
Tariq shared salutatorian honors with classmate Aunikah Delgado. Principal Jeff Martin said one one-thousandth of a point separated this year's valedictorian and salutatorians. The honors are based on cumulative grade point averages.
Martin has served as principal at KAHS for six years and said he's watched the students mature from their freshman year.
"(This class) was very stubborn in ways and sometimes paid penalties" such as cancelled field trips, Martin said. "But they are a very unique class, really spectacular."
KAHS moved this year's graduation ceremony from the school gymnasium to Lee Williams Field to accommodate larger crowds. A near full moon hung above the graduates as they crossed the stage, and at one point a large flock of birds hovered over the ceremony, drawing the attention of the crowd that filled the bleachers and spilled out into the parking lot.
The one small drawback from being outside was the occasional train horn punctuating speeches and two musical performances.
Martin said the outdoor ceremony managed to maintain the intimacy of when it was held in the gym. It is unclear whether future graduations will also be held outdoors.
The students didn't seem to care where they received their diploma; they just wanted their ticket to the next phase of their lives.
"It was nerve-wracking but it was worth it in the end," said Daniela Ramirez, who plans to major in journalism at Northern Arizona University in the fall.
Robert Nichols, a former physical education teacher now living in the Philippines, remembered the students as "scared, timid and shy" freshmen.
"And now look at you. You are brave, confident and anxious," he said.
It wasn't only the students who were anxious. Many parents who flooded the field after the ceremony spoke of their own fears as their children graduate into adults.
Cherry and Shirley Clark moved to Kingman from Maryland eight months ago. Their daughter, Marie, plans to go into fashion design. The Clarks said they have faith and confidence in their daughter but said they'll always worry about her.
"She is going to have challenges; that's a given in life," Shirley Clark said. "But she has a strong faith and plenty of principles to carry her through.
And if she ever needs help, "she knows how to pick up the phone," Clark said.