Eudora's high school graduation is an intimate affair for the entire town. The event is chock full of familiar faces, old friends, confidants, mentors and neighbors.
As 98 Eudora High School students accepted their diplomas early Saturday afternoon in the school's gymnasium, the entire community looked on with pride, whether they were supporting their own children or someone else's.
"Because Eudora is a small town, we're all friends," said Laura Paxton, whose son graduated from the school in 2003. Now her husband teaches at the school, and the pair attend the graduations nearly every year to show their support.
"It's a big to-do," she said with a smile. "Most of these kids we've known since they were little. It's like having one of your own."
The crowd hooted, hollered, applauded and blew air horns during a short video showing each graduate as a child and as a young adult. Families cheered, mothers and fathers wept and tiny children paraded through the gym's aisles.
Longtime Eudora High School teacher Matt Bova addressed the crowd, saying this year was also his last at the school. He recalled a number of times the students left his heart full, rallied around a sick teacher or showed an impressive amount of school pride.
Bova told the outgoing class he wished them friends, passion, freedom and a fulfilling life. But he urged them to remember their roots and the memories they'll carry with them.
"I hope the future brings you everything you want," he said. "But I hope you remember a lot of it was right here."
Before the ceremony, John Cronin stood at the back of the gym, smiling. He was in attendance to celebrate the graduation of his great-granddaughter, Jenna Abram.
"It's party time," he said. "You never want to miss a party."
With eight grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and a pair of great-great-grandchildren, Cronin said he has attended plenty of graduations. It's one of the simple pleasures of life.
"That's what it's all about, letting these kids grow up and hoping that they do well," he said.
"It won't be long until you'll see those kids graduate," he added, pointing at a set of toddlers waddling nearby.
After Bova's address, Principal Ron Abel introduced the class speakers, who graduated with honors.
Emma Schmidt, one of the speakers, echoed a few of Bova's points, reminding her fellow graduates of the big step they're taking.
"No matter how ready you think you are, leaving home is always a little scary," she said.
Another speaker, Jesse Dennison, noted that the class may forget certain lessons they learned in high school, whether they're math equations or lines of Shakespeare, and that's okay. But the lessons of community will remain, he said.
Quoting the movie "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," Dennison signed off by asking his fellow graduates to "be excellent to each other" and "party on, dudes."
After the ceremony, Schmidt said she appreciated the opportunity to speak.
"My family is one that sort of expects a lot," she said. "So to be able to speak was really rewarding."
Schmidt said she plans to attend the University of Kansas, although she's not sure what she'll study. Fortunately, however, she'll be close to home.
"There's an incredible support system here," she said. "I've never experienced anything like it."
That support system is something Schmidt said she'll remember. In her speech, she encouraged her fellow graduates to follow suit.
"Keep the lessons that you've learned here, both in and out of the classroom, keep them on the shelf in the back of your mind," she said. "Take them out from time to time, dust them off and remember the place you called your home."