To accommodate increasing crowds, this year's ceremony was held on the football field, where some families sat in the bleachers while others, carrying balloons, posters and flowers, settled on the grass.
Graduation "cap art" was in fashion, with most students using it to signal their destination: "Cal," "Chico," "LMU," "P," "Chapman," "Stanford," "Texas" — and an occasional "Thank you, Mom & Dad." A few grads emblazoned Bible verses on their caps: "Romans 5:3-5," "Philippians 3:14."
The band played an extended version of "Pomp and Circumstance" as graduates filed in.
Principal Katya Villalobos recited a litany of their achievements — choir concerts, drama performances, sports championships, wins in robotics, Science Olympiad, Model United Nations, speech and debate, recognition in the Siemens and Intel science competitions.
"The list can go on and on," Villalobos said. "We're so proud of you."
Taking inspiration from Walt Disney, she urged them to "believe, imagine, invent and innovate.
"We want you to be happy, healthy and define for yourselves what success means to you, but first you have to believe in what you want to accomplish," Villalobos said, urging graduates to "be a doer, not a critic."
Student speakers Rachel Freeman and David Oyer pondered the significance of transitions.
"Congratulations to the Class of 2012 for making it to this 'last,'" Freeman said. "Now it's time to get ready for another 'first.'"
Oyer said: "If you squint your eyes just right and look back on these four years," the positive memories of high school come through.
"We became some sort of weird, extremely complicated family while we were here and we're about to go through a fairly sloppy divorce," Oyer said. "It's sometimes hard to grasp the magnitude of an occasion.
"If there's ever a time we wished we'd lived in the moment, it might as well be this one."
Going to school at Gunn, he said, "was a great chance, maybe a last chance, to forget everything once in awhile and be a kid," he said.
Guest speaker David Shaw, head football coach at Stanford University, advised graduates to "never stop learning. Activate your mind on things that are interesting to you."
Shaw cited the extraordinary motivation level of Stanford player Andrew Luck toward the end of last season's game against USC, consulting with the coach after a disastrous interception.
"We were down by seven (points) with very little time to go, and the best player in the world had every excuse not to go back out there. We stood in silence for 45 seconds, and I looked at him and said, 'Are you ready?' And he looked at me and said, 'Oh yeah.'"
Stanford went on to win the game 56-48 in triple overtime.
Shaw told graduates to "set your standards of behavior early," motivate themselves with a positive outlook and "be mentally tough when times are hard."
Gunn English teacher Angela Dellaporta, retiring after teaching at the school since 1983, presented the Faculty Cup Award to graduates Karen Camacho and Malik Gill, chosen by the faculty as best representing the senior class for their "confidence, creative thinking, adaptability, respect for self and others and social and ethical responsibility."
Villalobos presented the Principal's Cup Award to physics teacher Lettie Weinmann, chosen by students and staff.
"She's giving, intelligent and committed to serving us as a community," Villalobos said.