The graduates stepped onto football fields in Harlingen and San Benito last night in a rite of passage into adulthood.

Family, friends and teachers filled the bleachers at Boggus and Bobby Morrow stadiums to watch as the seniors walked the stage to receive their well-deserved diplomas.

It was a bittersweet night filled with mixed emotions as the students said goodbye to their high school years and began to prepare for their next step in life.

HARLINGEN HIGH SCHOOL SOUTH

The future is a mystery.

That seemed to be on Jacob Fraga’s mind last night as he addressed the graduating class of Harlingen High School South.

“Most of the graduates here tonight have no idea what lies ahead or what direction their lives will take,” said the valedictorian.

“What I can say is that by looking out at the sea of eager faces in front of me, I see many people with completely different but nonetheless amazing passions.”

Fraga was speaking to about 475 graduates clad in their green gowns as delighted families listened from the bleachers.

“I am very proud, it’s an accomplishment,” Michael Vela said of his son Jonathan.

Vela and his wife pointed out their son struggled with recent incidents of school violence.

“He said, ‘What if it happens here, Dad? What am I going to do?” the elder Vela said. “It was a lot of anxiety. We’re a proud family. Nobody’s going to touch him.”

The stress of such harrowing incidents didn’t slow his son down from pursuing his future.

“He’s going to be a welder,” Vela said proudly. “He’s already a welder, but he wants to get certified.”

“I am very proud of his accomplishments,” added his mother Amanda.

Nahomi Avalos, 18, faced a different kind of struggle as she moved toward graduation.

“I don’t know a lot of English, so it was hard to pass the STAAR test,” said the native of Valle Hermoso, Mexico.

How did she do it? Plain old perseverance.

“I stayed after school and my teachers helped me,” she said.

And now?

“I want to go to TSTC to study education and then apply to the Air Force,” she said.

Jacob spoke about all the different paths they would all take.

“I see future film directors, actors, singers, sound cloud rappers, teachers, engineers, doctors and dentists,” he said. “I see speech therapists, musicians, brave men and women going into the military. No matter what your future endeavors may be, if you follow your dreams and do what makes you happy, success will follow.”

SAN BENITO HIGH SCHOOL

It took a village.

That seemed to be the unifying message last night as 729 students walked across the stage to grab their diploma during the San Benito High School graduation.

Excited parents and family members filled the stadium wearing handmade shirts and carrying bouquets of balloons and flowers as conjunto music played in the background.

Family and friends shouted and cheered from the stands of Bobby Morrow Stadium as names were called congratulating the graduates.

“We have all struggled at some point on this journey, but we have also found monumental success,” Salutatorian Joseph Munoz said in his speech.

The stadium stands were filled with hundreds of family members, friends, teachers and community members ready to celebrate the success of the students.

“It is important, however, to remember that this was not a one-man job,” Munoz continued. “We should take a moment to thank the many helping hands that have guided us along the way.”

For parents like Stella Castillo, the day brought mixed feelings of excitement and sadness about the passage of time.

“I can’t believe it,” Castillo said. “Time flew. It feels like yesterday was his kinder graduation.”

Castillo’s son, David Castillo, hopes to attend the Art Institute in San Antonio in the fall.

For parents like Carlos Gonzalez, this will be the last high school graduation he will attend for his children.

Gonzalez’s son, Carlos Gonzalez III, is the youngest of five and joined the Navy and will be leaving in July.

“It feels pretty good,” Gonzalez said. “He’s progressing into adulthood.”

Soon, graduate Maria Diaz will also be leaving the Valley to work and attend college in Minnesota.

While excited about her new chapter, the day brought up some mixed emotions.

“I’m leaving everything,” Diaz said. “It’s sad.”

Abram Huerta, a future Texas Tech University student, said he felt the same way.

“I’m really happy, but I’m also sad,” Huerta said. “All my years have led up to this moment. I’m sad this chapter is going to end.”