Khristopher Rosario-Ramirez made a promise to his parents that he would graduate from high school.

He did just that at South Aiken High School's commencement on Thursday. Rosario-Ramirez faced some challenges along the way: At the age of 10, he moved with his family from Puerto Rico.

“It was pretty tough, as I didn't speak English,” he said, “but it means a lot to me and my family to be here tonight.”

Rosario-Ramirez also received a welding certificate at the Aiken County Career and Technology Center on Wednesday. He is headed to Savannah River Nuclear Solutions for its nuclear welding program.

Valedictorian Allison Burrell encouraged her classmates to focus on “momentum” in their lives, propelled by their own accomplishments.

Regardless of their field of choice, college or the military, “Push yourselves in the next phase,” Burrell said. “What an exciting time for us.”

At the end of the Aiken High School ceremony on Thursday, the graduates raced to the back of the Convocation Center to pick up their diplomas from the teachers.

Donneshia Bell took the opportunity to give a hug to Bruce Bryant, the NJROTC senior chief.

“I was in ROTC for three years, and it really made me who I am today,” Bell said. “I was helped with my leadership skills, and I was able to become a better person.”

Linda Strojan, the senior guidance counselor, congratulated the students – citing one award after another what seniors throughout the school had received. She drew an applause from parents and other family members, announcing that the seniors were offered $17.6 million in scholarships this year.

Patrick Judd served as the commencement speaker. Valedictorian Ben Shumpert and salutatorian Ian DeMass also addressed their classmates.

Judd noted that celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Snooki have net worths in the $200 million range.

“That's 500 times greater than the average high school graduate,” he said. “It's not fair, but that's the reality‚ but we are capable of so much more.”

Following the North Augusta High School graduation ceremony, Summer Neal and her sister, Savannah, spoke rapidly over each other's words – surely nothing new for the twins.

“It's going to be really tough,” Savannah said. “We've never been separated before.”

“We've been in all the same classes together,” Summer added. “I can't imagine her not being around. It won't hit me until I leave.”

She will attend the University of South Carolina to study women's and gender studies. Savannah will stay closer to home, majoring in sociology at USC Aiken.

Valedictorian Sheena Amin and other classmates received $3,000 scholarships from the Paul Knox Education Foundation. She was joined by Bronwyn Bigger, Tonya Bledsoe, Ryan Boileau Jr., Alison Dinkins, Salutatorian Nicole Fuller, Ryan Hammond, Alaina Miller, Allison Owings, William Smith and Julia Spieker.

When he was asked about the opportunity to wear the cap and gown, Meshach Joseph immediately responded with a grin: “It's really hot right now.”

Then he said how it means a lot, because “You don't predict how it's going to end. You just have to keep on fighting and be strong.”

Joseph plans to study automotive technology in college.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.