They spent the past few years climbing their way to the top of Mount Oread and conquering it.
On Sunday afternoon, it was all downhill.
More than 4,000 graduates took the emotional and traditional walk from the summit down Campanile hill and into Memorial Stadium where police estimate about 23,000 friends and family members were waiting to welcome them.
Despite all of that education, many graduates were at a loss for anything more profound than a few simple words to describe it.
"It was pretty awesome," said Megan Harrod, 22, of Lawrence, a sociology major who was getting a degree in general studies.
"It was exciting," said Kelsea Black, 22, Wichita, who earned a bachelor's degree in journalism.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, wearing his traditional straw hat and dark robe, called the walk a tradition that symbolizes the graduates' academic journey toward earning a diploma.
"Last semester you reached the crest of the hill," Hemenway told the graduates. "Today you walk easily down the other side. Your trek is complete."
Hemenway, as he usually does during his commencement addresses, mixed humor with seriousness by offering rules for the graduates to live by.
Hemenway drew applause when he used humor to slap at state Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who has criticized KU and professor Dennis Dailey's teachings in a human sexuality class.
"Don't take any guff from that smart aleck in the Atlanta airport who says, 'You're from Kansas? Isn't that where they tried to ban evolution last year and this year tried to ban sex?'" Hemenway said.
On a more serious note, Hemenway noted that the graduates spent their time at KU during the trying period of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war. He also urged the celebration of diversity.
"No one had any choice about the color they were born with," he said. "If diversity is good enough for God, it should be good enough for you."
Before descending the Hill, students gathered under the banners of their respective schools along Memorial Drive. They joked among themselves, hugged each other and took pictures.
"I've been looking forward to this day for a long time," said Ben Anthis, 22, Rose Hill, who was celebrating his bachelor's degree in biochemistry. "I have a lot of family here and I'm enjoying myself."
So was Anthis' longtime friend from Rose Hill, Aric Cox, 22.
"I'm probably 10 times happier than I thought I'd be," said Cox, who received a bachelor's degree in anthropology. "Once you put on that robe it gets exciting.
John Terry, 25, Stilwell, who will take his English degree and become a teacher and graduate student at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, reflected on his years at KU.
"School wasn't that difficult," Terry said. "It was life outside school -- relationships, parties -- that sometimes made things difficult."
Some of the graduates expressed their emotions with signs, which sported happy faces or simple statements such as "Thanks Mom and Dad."
Cell phones were popular among graduates and their parents.
Harrod called her mom and aunts who were at home as soon as she got to the bottom of the Hill. "They told me to act like I was responsible," Harrod said with a laugh.
Sitting high in the southwest corner of the stadium, David B. Anderson, Austin, Texas, talked to his graduating son, David A. Anderson, by cell phone. Dad stood up and waved to the opposite northeast corner of the stadium where his son was sitting.
"We were waving but he couldn't see us," the elder Anderson said of his son, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering and would soon be taking a job with a utility company in Grand Cayman Islands.
"This is one of those days we looked forward to," David B. Anderson said. "We're really proud of him."