More than 300 graduates of Fairfield Warde High School, all dressed in black caps and gowns, walked into a future of unknown challenges Thursday evening with the words of Rocky Balboa in their ears.

Lauren Hochman, valedictorian of Warde's Class of 2013, quoted the fictional cinema boxer in her address, saying what matters most for the 312 graduates is not how hard they could hit, but how hard they could be hit -- and keep going.

Hochman said she knows challenges are ahead that Warde teachers and administrators didn't anticipate or address, but added that she and her classmates "have learned to think for ourselves so we can address the problems we currently cannot foresee."

"We have learned to think logically and connect one step to the next until we reach our goals," Hochman said. She said the graduates' goals must be their own and that they need to take risks and "dare to succeed and dare to fail."

"I challenge all of us to take risks and dare to fail," Hochman said. "Give it your all and face the challenges along the way, and, if it doesn't work out, make it the most passionate failure that's ever been."

After the hour-long ceremony in the school's courtyard, graduate Marc Costello, who plans to major in criminology at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, said he would most miss the people at Warde, saying the Melville Avenue high school "wasn't very cliquey."

"It intertwined. Everyone knew everyone," Costello said.

Henry Minot, who's heading to Trinity College in Hartford, said he would miss friends and teachers who inspired him and helped him figure out that studying history is what he wants to do with his life.

Minot said he also would miss being a member of Warde's debate team and that he plans to join Trinity College's debate team. "This year, I qualified for state's and went to the final round in a big auditorium. It was cool to have accomplished that after four years in the debate program," he said.

Zoe Yassky said she will travel to Israel in early July to live with her mother and plans to join the Israeli Army as a medic. She wasn't sure exactly what inspired her to join the Israeli Army, but said she isn't worried about her safety.

Katie Selander, who plans to study at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport for a career in human services, said she would miss having all her friends in one place. She said a high school memory she always would have was her first day at Warde as a freshman. Selander said she and her fellow freshmen were nervous and in an unfamiliar environment and that she was surprised by how friendly everyone was.

Daniel Callahan, who gave the Class of 2013 address, said graduates were born around the same time as the websites Yahoo, Amazon and eBay, and they grew up with the ability to send instant messages and share experiences over the Internet via Facebook. "To make progress, we've relied on each other as we've always needed connection," he said.

Callahan said Warde helped graduates "grow into mature, thoughtful young adults," and he and other speakers thanked teachers, administrators and parents for supporting and helping them become high school graduates.

Caroline Keough, the class salutatorian and a member of Warde's cross country and track teams, likened the Class of 2013 to a large team that looked out for and supported one another. "It's clear we are not competitors but teammates, and we always sought to help each other whenever possible," she said.

"In a way, it's our final team huddle and cheer," Keough said of Thursday's graduation. "Whatever we may be up against, we know we're ready."

James Coyne, Warde High's headmaster, said the Class of 2013 would be remembered for representing the school "in a way that makes us exceedingly proud."