WEST ORANGE, NJ – Clad in navy blue gowns, smiling and waving to family in the crowd, seniors at West Orange High School shuffled onto the floor the Richard J. Codey Arena Thursday night to the well-worn sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

After two hours of speeches, singing and live music, they shuffled out; still clad in those navy blue gowns, still smiling and waving to their family. But they were no longer students – they were the graduates of West Orange High School’s Class of 2011.

The 116th Annual Commencement of West Orange High saw 487 seniors take their first step into what high school teachers always refer to as “the real world.” But the fresh-faced young adults walked around with few cares in the world and misbehaving as high school students do – playing practical jokes, whispering to one another while a speaker is talking, and flirting with classmates one last time.

After a moving rendition of “What a Wonderful World” by the Senior Graduation Choir Valedictorian David Handsman took the stage to speak about the uncertainties in life. Handsman remarked that “life is too unpredictable to know anything for certain.”

Handsman told his classmates not to be afraid, when people ask them about their future, to say “I don’t know.” Rather, he said, they should allow their passions, whatever they may, to be their guiding force.

“Don’t to be afraid to admit that you aren’t an expert, and that you don’t know where your passions will take you,” said Handsman, who will be attending Yale University in the fall.

With a 100 percent graduation rate, West Orange High School was ranked No. 355 out of the top 500 high schools in the country on Newsweek’s best high schools in the country. The list said that 93 percent of this class would be heading off to college next year.

Joanne Andrasko, an English teacher at the high school, said she loved this class because of their outgoing, fun-loving attitude.

“The kids that I had, I’ve had since they were freshman, and they have grown up to be beautiful people,” Andrasko said.

The hockey arena was packed to the brim, with some people having to sit behind the class, who were positioned in the middle of the floor. It was fitting, though, that Marie Pacaud was behind her son, Normand -- just as she has been her whole life. Her second and youngest child, Pacaud said she was proud of him.

“I’m not sad, no. I’m so very, very happy,” Picaud said, with a glowing smile on her face.

But these students know that though this night was filled with happiness and excitement, the next step can sometimes be nerve-racking. Amanda Sun, a Co-Salutatorian, spoke to the roadblocks that the graduates will encounter on their long journey through their lives.

Sun, who will be attending University of California, Berkeley, said that while some opportunities will be obvious, other times “the unexpected will happen and cause you to change.”

“If you stumble, you must move on. Just like taking an exam,” she said. “If you become stuck on one problem, you cannot spend all of the time trying to figure that one question because you will miss all of the easy ones.”