After the symbolic moving of their tassels from right to left, the graduating seniors became GHHS alumni during the school's 141st commencement ceremony.
"Commencement signifies a new beginning for each of you," said Andrew Ingall, superintendent of Grand Haven Area Public Schools.
As Ingall spoke to the graduates, he did so as an administrator and proud dad. He told them they've brought joy to their families and friends.
Then Ingall took a moment to speak to his son, Ben, who was graduating Thursday night.
Although Ingall said he knows it wasn't always easy hearing updates about his dad's Twitter feed, whereabouts and being asked about snow days, Ingall said it has been a privilege to watch Ben grow over the years.
Ingall left students with two messages — never stop learning and be persistent.
"Always know you have Grand Haven behind you," he said.
See more photos from the commencement at grandhaventribune.com/photos.
When Class President Kathryn Jaeger considered all of the opportunities she had over the years, she thought about a lesson she learned during her freshman year that has stuck with her the most. During choir class, she cracked jokes and got the soprano section off topic. After one class, the teacher told Jaeger she was a leader, but she was leading in the wrong direction. Jaeger said the teacher asked her to use her leadership skills for good.
Throughout the remainder of her high school years, Jaeger said she would ask herself, "Are my actions positively motivated?"
Jaeger challenged her classmates to know they are leaders, but to take a step back and ask if they are leading in the right direction.
As the new alumni begin a new chapter in their lives, Student Senate President Jack Costello encouraged his classmates to remember that they can do anything they set their minds to do.
Costello recently helped coordinate Tour de Grand Haven, an experience he called difficult but humbling. Through that experience, Costello said he discovered a newfound maturity to ensure a job gets done.
Costello told his classmates that they are surrounded by people who want to see them succeed, and they need to find their drive within to persevere through challenges that might come their way.
GHHS Principal Tracy Wilson said the Class of 2017 is leaving a footprint on the campus with the permanent rock garden they created to continue raising awareness about mental illness and remember the people they’ve lost along the way.
Wilson also challenged the graduates to make an impact and realize every interaction they have counts. She told them to remember they get to choose their future.
“This is the beginning of your adult life,” she said.
As April Mueller and Alyssa Bessinger leave high school, they said they will miss the teachers the most.
"Their influence is positive," Bessinger said.
The day before the GHHS seniors received their diplomas, they visited their former elementary schools, White Pines Intermediate School and Lakeshore Middle School. The seniors also made one final walk through the high school and left the building together for the final time.
Throughout the event at their former schools, teachers and young students greeted the seniors with smiles and high-fives.
Graduate Sam Nelson said he enjoyed having that opportunity.
"It makes the occasion feel really special," he said.