WACO, Texas -- Graduates are often told that their graduation day is the first day of the rest of their lives, but in West, Texas, that day truly came in April.
Fifteen people died April 17, when the fertilizer plant exploded just a few blocks north of the high school. The Class of 2013 spent the final few weeks of school in another building, in another town, getting another kind of education.
"Over the last six or seven weeks, the life lessons they've learned will probably go further than any sixth grade spelling test," said Wayne Leek, principal of West High.
The senior year for a class of 118 became a year of loss, and a year of gains. They gained a new appreciation of life.
"It's awful and beautiful at the same time," said senior class president Chris Taylor. "You really get to grow even closer than you already are, and most of us have been here 12 years straight."
One graduating senior worked at the nursing home that was destroyed, and at graduation Friday night at Baylor University's Ferrell Center, he wore a remembrance on his cap.
"The last few weeks have been tough and the hard times aren't over, but fertilizer makes flowers," valedictorian Zoe Rankin told her classmates.
There was mention of what happened April 17, but their graduation really focused on what the students did right.
"They stepped up and led, led by example, and it makes you proud," Leek said.
The class walked across the stage with wisdom.
They had rallied around their community. They had stayed strong. They had grown up.
They threw up their caps as the ceremony ended, and it was evident that life had changed again Friday night, but this change was good.