Unbeknownst to the 328 graduates at the commencement exercises for Fairfield Warde High School on Thursday evening, there was an unconscious theme that developed on stage and in the crowd of about 2,180 well-wishers about how the Class of 2010 would enter the world to make their mark while staying rooted in their hometown.

Before the ceremony began, Anakay Berry, mother of graduate Rozha Pessoa, 16, stood in front of a tree in the school's courtyard and imagined how her son's life would be different after receiving his diploma. "I'm looking at this tree. That's where he is planted and he also has wings to fly," Berry said. She said her son listened to the song, "I Believe I Can Fly," earlier Thursday.

On stage, graduate Margaret McCarthy thanked all the graduates' parents for providing a foundation for the Class of 2010 in her welcome address.

Salutatorian Phillip Coletti, 18, talked about the graduates balancing on the edge of past and future, and Ashley Pallathra, who referred to fellow graduates as "the ridiculously good-looking Class of 2010," talked about taking a giant leap into new beginnings without the safety net created for them by parents and teachers.

Samantha "Sam" Thomas, 18, got a head start on her new beginning. She gave birth to a baby boy on June 8 and wore on her mortarboard a photograph of her newborn, Collin Warga, in the arms of his father Michael Warga, with the words, "My inspiration."

"He's my inspiration. My grades went up when I learned I was pregnant. I stopped going out," said Thomas, who will move to Florida next week where she will study to become a dental hygienist. Collin was actually due June 24, but if he had been born on schedule Thomas would have missed walking with her classmates.

"He came early just so you could graduate," said graduate Lindsay Warner, 18.

Colletti warned that the path before the graduates will be riddled with obstacles, including the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; the wars being waged throughout the world, and the political divisions at home. But, he added, he remains optimistic for himself and his classmates, telling them they have unlimited potential and to never stop dreaming or learning.

"I want someone here to walk on Mars, cure cancer ¦ save a life, become president," said Colletti, who will study engineering an economics at Dartmouth in the fall.

He and valedictorian Mary Schulman both mentioned BP and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Schulman talked about corporate greed and corruption. Colletti mentioned BP engineers' implausible plan to stop the leak with shredded tires and golf balls. "That was an actual proposal from their engineers. Clearly the world needs us," he said.

Schulman suggested graduates can succeed in the world beyond Fairfield only by learning the world's languages, not the obvious -- although she has studied Chinese and Spanish and will major in East Asian studies at Princeton -- she cited the "languages" of science, math, government, friendship and human interaction.

"Language encompasses so much more than words on a page," Schulman said.

During the graduation ceremony, Warde Headmaster James Coyne honored several people who are retiring from the school and the Fairfield public schools: Superintendent of Schools Ann Clark, social worker Ellen Ziff, orchestra instructor Deborah Graser, Social Studies teacher Brian Hermes, and Special Education teacher Daphne Rich.