More than 500 seniors became South Lakes High School graduates at the school's commencement ceremony on Thursday.
This was the first "big" class at the school following the county redistricting of several years ago and the last for Principal Bruce Butler, who is retiring at the end of the month after seven years as principal of SLHS and 31 years with Fairfax County Public Schools.
The class gave Butler extra recognition for his long hours and dedicated leadership. They renamed the faculty award - given by the faculty to a student who has shown exemplary leadership, scholarship and service to the school and the community - the Bruce Butler Award.
The faculty gave the first Bruce Butler Award to Chris Sheppard, who has served as a three-year class president as well as on the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council and in a variety of other leadership positions.
"Chris is a natural-born leader," Butler said of Sheppard, who represented Virginia in the U.S. Senate Youth Program earlier this school year. "He is a student leader who has committed countless hours to school and the community."
Sheppard will attend St. John's University in New York, where he will study political science and pre law.
Student speaker Will Cochrane's speech theme was "celebration."
"We are gathered here one last time to celebrate ourselves and each other," he said. "We are celebrating academic achievement, a student body that embraces diversity, and leadership."
Cochrane said he was reviewing video to jog his memory about what made the class special. He found a clip from Spirit Week, where the class pretended it was on a roller coaster.
"That epitomizes four years at South Lakes," he said. "There is the typical high school experience with the ups and downs and an end in sight. But our high school experience was not a typical experience.
"It is not every school that has a 'Dress Like Bruce Butler Day' and the tapestry of diversity that we do. We all may have been sitting on different seats on the roller coaster, but all these moments we celebrate - and that's what puts us all on the same ride."
Then the entire class did its roller coaster bit one more time.
The grads will return to South Lakes Thursday night for the traditional All-Night Grad Party, which will run until 5 a.m. Friday.
Check Reston Patch later for a commencement photo gallery and pictures from the All Night Grad Party - and add your own!