Members of Notre Dame High School's Class of 2013 lined up in a second-floor hallway Friday evening, preparing for commencement exercises in the auditorium.

As they passed the library a lone figure stood in a window waving, blowing kisses and forming her forefingers and thumbs into a heart shape. Theresa Marzik, the school's advancement and alumni director, watched the seniors walk by before she went downstairs, where almost a thousand relatives and friends waited to see the graduates cross the stage. Most of the grads' returned Marzik's greetings.

Marzik and the students' emotional and up-beat exchanges characterized the ceremony, one if celebration tinged with sadness as the 102 graduates said goodbye to the comfortable environs on Jefferson Street of the last four years.

"It's bittersweet because I'm leaving a second family, but excited because Notre Dame has prepared me for what's down the road," said Taylor Springer, 18, who grew up in Fairfield but recently moved to West Haven. Springer will attend the University of New Hampshire to study psychology. Ultimately, she wants to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist.

Xiang "Robert" Zhao, 19, a Chinese native, came to the United States two years ago to live with an uncle in Fairfield and gain an American education. "My English is getting better and I'm making lots of friends. Everyone is very nice," Zhao said. He said he likes American culture and "I love basketball." Zhao will study chemistry at Colorado State University.

Matt Heim, 18, of Fairfield, said his career path was influenced by his experience at Notre Dame. "I like the teachers and the environment here. I want to be like them," said Heim, who plans to teach math at the elementary or high school level. He will attend Sacred Heart University.

For some graduates, the commencement proved more emotional than for others.

Kaitlyn Edwards, 17, of Bridgeport, lost her mother during her senior year. "It's tough. It's hard. I know she's looking over me now. I know she's proud," said Edwards, who will attend A&T State University in North Carolina, where she will study criminal justice.

Earl Coleman did a "Tim Tebow" when his name was called, kneeling at center stage.

Daniel Upchurch Jr., 18, of Bridgeport, was even more effusive. He raised his diploma high before walking over to the Rev. Bill Sangiovanni, the high school's president, and giving him a big hug. Upchurch's father died just before the start of the basketball season and Sangiovanni said he often attended the basketball games to let Upchurch know he had the support of his academic community.

That pride and support is extended to the entire class. "We couldn't be prouder of their accomplishments whether in the classroom, on the athletic field, in the community," said Principal Christopher Cipriano. He said Notre Dame's Class of 2013 collectively completed more than 12,000 hours of community service over the course of their four high school years, including a food drive and coat collection for Operation Hope, service trips to Appalachia, and 26 acts of kindness campaign after the Sandy Hook tragedy last December.

"Personally, it's a spiritual gain or enhancement to help those in need and sacrifice your own time for others," said Tyler Lehren, 18, of Bridgeport, the Student Council president.

In his valedictory address, Michael Lenard of Monroe, mentioned the tragedies of Superstorm Sandy, the Sandy Hook School massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing. "We are in a time with so many crazy events happening in the world. Every single one of us can feel despair, especially when despicable and confusing things happen," he said. But, Lenard reminded his classmates, "even though the world will continue to produce tumultuous chaos, life is worth it. Life is beautiful, and is truly a gift ... The good will always be more abundant than the bad."

Cipriano asked the graduates to "make good choices" throughout their life and career. The principal had more to say, but part way through his address he told the crowd, "How about that? The last page of my speech is missing." He ad-libbed the rest, saying life will throw curves to them. He told them to take with them the lessons and values that their Notre Dame education gave them and "Do the best you can."

Sister Mary Grace Walsh, interim superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, left graduates with the words of Pope Francis, from a tweet he sent last month: "Dear young people, the church expects great things of you ... Don't be afraid to aim high."

Members of the Notre Dame Class of 2013 have already done that. Jennifer Mazzapelle was named the Most Outstanding Senior, as chosen by the faculty and staff. Cipriano called her "the total package." And Sangiovanni pointed out that the Class of 2013 earned more than $12.6 million in grants and scholarships. About 98 percent of the graduates will attend college.