Because of stifling heat Thursday, officials promised an abbreviated commencement for the Class of 2012 at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. An hour and seven minutes after it started, the last member of the class had received their diplomas and the newly minted graduates were tossing their mortarboards into the steamy evening air.

Despite sitting on the turf field in the direct sunlight, Kim Picone, 18, said it really wasn't that bad. The dress code for graduation was relaxed and it wasn't just students who sported shorts and flip-flops under their robes -- some of their teachers did as well. Ambulance crews were on standby at the field in case anyone was overcome by the oppressive weather, and coolers of water were available near the seats to help avoid dehydration.

After she collected her diploma Picone pondered what she would miss after her four years at Ludlowe. "Probably the hardest thing about leaving is the relationships with the teachers," she said. "I built some amazing relationships." She said, however, that she looks forward to time relaxing outside the academic grind. Picone plans to take a half-semester off before going onto college.

For classmate Libby McNamara, 17, it will be hard "not seeing everybody, even the people that I don't talk to." Heading to Ithaca College in the fall, McNamara said she looks forward to "getting out of Fairfield, exploring and going to college."

During their high school career, the 354 members of Ludlowe's Class of 2012 found diverse roles, said Sara Wiant, the class president, as she rattled off the number who were athletes -- 144 -- to the number of authors -- one.

But, she said, "It is not the activities that define us, it's the bonds we form."

"We are," Wiant said, "trailblazers, leaders, creators and pioneers."

Olivia Morrison, the class valedictorian, recalled starting high school and thinking that she and fellow students would be at the school forever. "Four years seemed like an eternity," she said. "Now four years doesn't seem like much time at all. From these 720 days, these 144 Mondays and these four first days of school, we have gained infinite memories."

The graduates fought hard, Morrison said, to get to this day and "pushed through the tough things and had fun along the way. For her, mock trial was her passion during high school and the thing that pushed her forward. Those things, Morrison said, don't define the individual, but are a "significant part of who you are."

Now, she said, the four years have quickly passed, the classmates are moving on to that next phase. "This moment, this last `last' is the last time we will all be together," Morrison said of the one last chance to be together as a class. "Look back and remember how we got to this point."

Salutatorian Emma Sweet reminded fellow graduates that fantasy gives them something to strive for, "to wake up the brain cells that are often lost by the end of the school year."

Sweet said time attending high school is more than just preparation for college, more than the "social food chain," and even more than getting an education. It is, she said, a journey, "one that defines who we are today and helps to shape who we are in the future."

"We will stumble, and we might fail once in or twice," Sweet said, but the graduates will grow to become wiser, more unique and more experienced and, "as a result more confused ... and we'll spend everyday searching for those answers."

Teacher Carol Samuelson was chosen to address the students and reminded them that she had recently completed her doctoral studies in May, a fulfillment of a life-long dream. "Today is the fulfillment of each of yours," she said. "For all of you, today marks the end of one season of life and the beginning of the other."

Samuelson told the commencement that graduates will likely meet with a failure or two in the future, but pointed to others in history who have as well. People, she said, often don't achieve their finest hour during times of tranquility, but in times of chaos or uncertainty or medical hardship. "It is in those moments we are given the opportunity to claim our finest hour," she said. The key failure, Samuelson said, is in the response.; 203-556-2771;