[Click here for a Noozhawk gallery of photos from local high school graduations.]

Donning caps and gowns, sharing smiles and tears, and with families, friends and educators looking on, seniors at three Santa Barbara-area high schools took the big step into the next phase of their lives at graduation ceremonies Thursday.

At commencement ceremonies staggered an hour apart, the graduates marched into the football stadiums at Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara high schools to receive their diplomas.

San Marcos High School

Family and friends gathered to celebrate the graduation of a special group of students, a class that just can’t stop dancing.

Principal Ed Behrans said it all began their freshman year. The young Royals made the best of a bad situation during a lockdown that followed a false report of a gun on campus by turning the crowded auditorium into an impromptu dance party.

On another occasion, the graduates started a “flash mob” at a basketball game against rival Santa Barbara High School. The event became a trademark moment for the class and even sparked a viral video.

New graduate Lauren Klammer encouraged her classmates to hold on to their zest for life during her speech at the ceremony.

YouTube video

“I urge you all to keep searching for what makes your heart beat,” Klammer said. “We will be successful in life knowing we followed our true passions.”

By all accounts, the Class of 2013 is full of the passion Klammer described in her address.

David O’ Donnell said the explosion of dancing at the end of Thursday’s ceremony was exactly what he has come to expect from this group.

“The flash mob was a great idea, I’ve seen 30 of these and that was new,” O’Donell said.

Dos Pueblos High School

The 46th annual commencement bell chimed, signaling the opening presentation of the Class of 2013 at Dos Pueblos High School.

The stands were full of family and friends Thursday at Dos Pueblos High School's graduation ceremonies. (Karina Evans / Noozhawk photo)

The stands were full of family and friends Thursday at Dos Pueblos High School’s graduation ceremonies. (Karina Evans / Noozhawk photo)

Principal Shawn Carey began the speeches by introducing the senior class and highlighting their accomplishments.

Casey Dwire, the Associated Student Body president, spoke next and welcomed guests.

The student speakers were Kierstin Brown, Shelby Gold and Eugene Cho. Class president John Linehan delivered the closing remarks.

The ceremony was concluded with the senior song “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons.

Senior Emma Craine summed up the event: “I am very excited about graduating high school after seeing so many classes go through it each year. It’s finally my turn! I feel overwhelmed and a tad sad because so many of my favorite memories are from DP and the crazy kids I became friends with.

“I’m also looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life and making many more memories in college that will last a lifetime.”

Santa Barbara High School

As veterans from World War II walked the hill to accept their diplomas at this year’s Santa Barbara High School graduation, many members of the audience had tears in their eyes.

Two Santa Barbara High graduates share a light-hearted moment during graduation ceremonies Thursday. (Ryan Abundis photo)

Two Santa Barbara High graduates share a lighthearted moment during commencement on Thursday. (Ryan Abundis photo)

Nearly 500 students gathered at Peabody Stadium for Santa Barbara High’s 138th annual commencement.

Among those receiving diplomas were seven veterans — some attending in person, some represented by family — more than 50 years after serving in World War II.

A few of them were part of the forces who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 69 years ago Thursday.

Principal John Becchio led the ceremony, introducing most of the speakers.

“I have a great confidence that we are going to take everything that we’ve learned in these four years into the real world,” said Claire Waterhouse, Santa Barbara High’s 2013 senior class president. “Thank you for being who you are. We made the No. 13 lucky.”

Katie Joseph, prom queen and a member of the Channel League champion girl’s soccer team, said she’s going to miss the freedom and close friends she’s made. In the fall, she’s going to the Bay Area.

“I’m going to Stanford University to study neuroscience,” she said. “I’m super excited.”

Moving on to Santa Barbara City College, Austin Trevillian-Herrick was cheered on by his dad.

“The whole family is so proud of him,” said his father, Jack, as he paused and shed a tear of joy. “After 18 and a half years, this is what we have all looked forward to. Everybody is just so excited. It’s a great time to be alive.”

As the names were finally called, the audience proudly clapped their hands to show their support. A few members of the audience spoke about the day as sad, sentimental and happy all at the same time — their loved ones are now making the transition into adulthood.

“I’m going to miss the spirit of the school and all my friends and the high energy level,” graduate Jelon Hutton said. “We’ve had a blast!”

Hats were thrown in the air, hugs and kisses were given out, and the stadium was filled with love.

Noozhawk intern Jordon Niedermeier can be reached at jniedermeier@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.