Just before lunch on Tuesday afternoon, the halls of Memorial Middle School in Albany were quiet.
Then, the crowd came.
One by one, classroom doors opened and students flooded out, lining the halls. Some hopped from one foot to the other in excitement. Others kept their eyes peeled on the front entrance, ready to pounce. Teachers stood at the ready with cameras, anticipation and tears threatening.
It all lived up to the reaction West Albany High School Principal Susie Orsborn predicted for an equally excited crowd of graduating seniors just 30 minutes prior.
“Today, you’re celebrities,” she said.
Tuesday marked the third year that graduating seniors made the trip back to Memorial in their cap and gowns. The traditional grad walk is meant to inspire younger students and give graduates the opportunity to reflect on how far they’ve come. Students also visited North Albany Middle School, North Albany Elementary School, Liberty Elementary School and Timber Ridge.
“This is hugely important for them,” said Memorial Principal Ken Gilbert. “To see that this is their goal for K-12 is awesome. It’s just good for them to see this is what they’re shooting for, for the next step and then career and college beyond that. I love this. The kids coming back have a lot of pride too.”
School pride lined the hall as graduates came through the doors waving to students, handing out high-fives and rushing to hug their favorite teachers.
For eighth-grade teacher Kiersten Aldrich, Tuesday marked a milestone.
“These are my first babies,” she said of the returning graduates. “They were my first eighth-grade class; this is them. I get to see them and hug them again and it’s so amazing. I want to cry, I’m so proud of them.”
The visit, she said, also creates an impact for her current eighth-graders.
“To the seniors, they just leave but for my students now they get to see this is going to be them and it really motivates them.”
The walk lasted less than five minutes as graduates paraded through the halls, but it was five minutes some students have been thinking about for years.
Graduate Danielle Sally and future Western Oregon University accounting student serves as a cadet teacher at Memorial, so she said it feels like she never left. But she's been looking forward to the grad walk all year.
“I think it’s a good way to show them what they can accomplish if they really tried,” she said.