Students in gowns hugged and twirled one another, and parents, holding flowers of all hues, pressed to the front of the crowd with cameras.
"This exuberance we're experiencing on this day — this feeling of limitless possibilities — don't ever forget it," Student Body President Jessica Tam told her classmates.
Tam spoke of countless tests and quizzes, sneaking food into the library, enduring the noise of campus construction, getting hit by Frisbees, naked seniors in the quad and "crying over rejections, crying over acceptances and making the best friends we will ever have."
Two of the three other student speakers struck the theme of academic stress.
In her speech "To the Average Student," Abby Bromberg said she had sensed an unwritten code at Paly that "cool kids don't try and still get As in every class."
Comparing herself to accomplished friends, she felt she never measured up until, after some "unsubtle hints" from her parents, she realized it was pointless to compare herself to others.
She came to recognize she had talents of her own, in language and speaking.
"I had only seen my friends' abilities and none of my own. ... So my challenge to you isn't just to follow your dreams but to find your aptitude. Don't compare yourself to people better than you — don't compare yourself to other people in general.
"As you move on, do what you can, and be proud of what you can do."
In her speech "Stress Case," Soo Song said she'd felt unsettled to have been voted "class stress case" at the beginning of senior year.
"I knew I was stressed about tests and grades and little details — about almost everything — but it was part of me, and being the class stress case forced me to look at myself a little harder.
"Was there something wrong with me? Did I care about the right things? Does living life to the fullest mean giving everything your best shot, or not taking things so seriously?"
Song was disappointed by rejections from some colleges she'd set her heart on but felt better after seeing the raft of rejections posted on Paly's "Rejection Wall" in the quad.
At Paly it's easy to "get caught up in things" and forget what matters and what doesn't, Song said. "It all comes down to you. You must measure yourself not by what others think you achieve but what you know about yourself. What we know about ourselves may be tiny now, but it's a start."
In his speech "Lessons from Gatsby," Justin Zhang spoke of arriving and adjusting to Palo Alto seven years ago after having lived in Oakland, New Jersey and China.
"If there's one lesson I took from Kirk Hinton's American Classics course it's that Jay Gatsby died because he tried to live in the past. Instead we must live in the future," Zhang said.
"Let us fear not the change that will come with the new day but instead seize the opportunity and add a new twist to our own personal stories.
"Tonight all of us will be writing the final pages of Chapter 1, our childhood. Let us cheer for the end of our beginning."
Music was provided by the Paly Band, as well as separate singing performances by graduating senior Julian Hornik and the trio of Helen Cane, Yoko Kanai and Annie Vainshtein.
Faculty members presented the Viking Award for exemplary students to graduates Jessica Tam and Ethan Cohen.
Paly Principal Phil Winston recognized teacher Ron Williamson, who is retiring after more than 20 years at the school.
Diplomas were presented by Palo Alto school board members Melissa Baten Caswell and Camille Townsend as well as by Superintendent Kevin Skelly and district business officer Cathy Mak.
SEE MORE ONLINE
More photographs of graduation and the lists of graduates from local high schools have been posted on www.PaloAltoOnline.com.