WIESBADEN, Germany - "It's been a long coming, but here it is."

With those words, Wiesbaden High School Senior Class President Cody Fischer welcomed the Class of 2009 to commencement exercises in the Wiesbaden Kurhaus June 7.

As the capacity crowd filled the ornate hall up into the balcony seating, speakers reflected on what it means to make the transition from high school and bid farewell to several long-time teachers and administrators who will retire or move on to other schools next school year.

"We have finally made it - we come together at this time to say goodbye," said Salutatorian Alan Gray.

Valedictorian Christine Ashton challenged her classmates to tackle the tough issues and to tap into their personal gifts and abilities. "Class of 2009 - I know you have the potential to make things happen. ... Define yourself ... be your own person. ... It's your gift as a human being."

Recognizing that military youths face unique challenges with constant moves, deployed parents and life overseas, DoDDS-Europe Director Diana Ohman, said, "I am proud of you and I am proud to be here.

Calling the graduates "millennials" who are better educated and more technologically savvy than past generations, Ohman said members of the Class of 2009 are the "citizens, the leaders, who will make this world better.

"Never forget your capacity for greatness. ... I have no fear that you will meet the challenges of the future," Ohman said.

"Yes it's a big step, but it is merely a steppingstone to what lies ahead," said keynote speaker and Wiesbaden High English and foreign language teacher Doris Oberfell.

Advising the students to find their dreams, no matter what others might think, Oberfell told the graduates to not be afraid to take risks, "to fall down and get back up again. ... Act upon your ponderings ... do not turn away ... do not refuse to help.

"When you leave this world ... hopefully people will say it's a better world because you were here," she said.

As in past years, parents serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations around the world had the opportunity to watch DoDDS-Europe graduation ceremonies via online webcast. Maj. Gen. Terry A. Wolff, 1st Armored Division commander, greeted those parents absent from the Wiesbaden Kurhaus ceremony. "A special hello to the parents who are watching this from deployed locations."

Wolff also asked the seniors to "remember those friends, those teachers, who put their stamp on you" and to thank their parents "with a big hug and a kiss" - people who helped the youths develop "character, courage and grit."

Finally it was time to flip the tassels and to turn class rings marking the rite of passage. As a visibly moved Principal Eric Goldman took the podium to release the graduates and bid farewell, he noted that it would be his last graduating class in Wiesbaden as he prepares to move on to a new position with Brussels American School next school year. After asking the students to turn to face the gathering of families and friends, he gave the word and more than 90 caps were flung skyward; the Class of 2009, ready to live up to their class motto to "remember yesterday, dream for tomorrow and to live for today."