With winds gusting and applause swelling, Buhach Colony High School senior Eric Baker clenched his muscles and fought to get out of his wheelchair Thursday night.
The applause died down as he struggled to stand.
For about thirty seconds, people were left to wonder whether he'd stand.
Finally, Baker pushed his body upright with the help of a walker, turned his head and accepted his diploma to a standing ovation.
Holding his paralyzed body up with a walker, he bit down to accept the coveted document.
Baker broke his neck in two spots and crushed his skull during an October diving accident and was determined to accept his diploma along with the other 394 graduating seniors at Buhach Colony.
Hours earlier, Golden Valley graduates gave Tammy Saetern, 18, a rousing ovation as they waited in the theater before ceremonies began. Saetern was due to graduate last year but a May 17, 2008, auto accident left her comatose for 21 days and hospitalized until July. She has recovered from her serious injuries, started attending Merced College this spring and plans to take summer classes.
Majoring in business and photography, she ultimately hopes to go to college in Southern California and then enter culinary school.
"I'm happy I got a chance to be part of this. It feels good getting to walk," she said.
Thursday night, at schools across the eastern edge of Merced County -- Atwater High School, Buhach Colony, Merced, Golden Valley, Yosemite -- 1,977 other giddy graduates were celebrating their accomplishments -- large and small -- as they waited impatiently to hear their names called.
The night was filled with fleeting moments of pure joy -- singular celebrations of victory -- that came together to blanket the land in an continuous, elated buzz.
Another 588 seniors are expected to graduate today from Independence and Livingston high schools, and Merced Adult School.