Permian students started to rise from their rehearsal chairs, clinging to caps and lifting gowns, and filing through rows out of the roped staging area, around toward Ratliff Stadium.

The finish line was just there.

For Kennison Vardeman, and the others around him with last names designating them to the back rows in alphabetical order, there passed a moment where they could just watch their classmates ahead of them get up, snake around into the stadium and start walking down the ramps toward the field — and see that the commencement ceremony for Permian High’s class of 2018 had arrived.

“I think ‘surreal’ is definitely a good word,” Vardeman agreed, the sun setting on him and more than 700 of his classmates Friday night, just before they stepped down onto the field, walked the stage, and celebrated their graduation under the lights in Ratliff.

“I think everybody else is excited, because this is something that we worked so hard for,” Katelynn Winchell said, a row behind him.

“It’s kind of an elation.”

A total of 719 students celebrated graduating from Permian on Friday night, marking an exciting time for some, a motivating moment for plenty others, and, for several still, a bit of a rush of that surreal feeling.

“It’s been pretty weird,” said Ben Vore nearby. The former Panthers football standout plans to attend BYU and major in biology. “I feel like everything’s just been leading up to this. I’m sure I’m going to have a lot of great memories being at Permian.

“It just kind of hasn’t hit yet, you know?”

Winchell, who plans to go Angelo State and study marketing, said she thought everyone around her was excited for the night to finally be upon them, and to be finished with a roller coaster last week that marked an end to the class’s time at a school the students have spent so much time with.

“It’s been stressful,” Winchell said, of that last week leading up to graduation. “But it’s been alright.

“We got through it.”

That alone means so much, especially in a city like Odessa, said Vardeman, where he said the schools are so central to the community. Vardeman went through ECISD all the way, and plans to stick around a while longer to go to UTPB and study music.

“I’ve always looked forward — like my whole life — looked forward to going to Permian,” Vardeman said.

“Now it’s done. And it’s just crazy.”

Yes, for those seniors, it’s complete.

There’s no time left to cherish being a Permian student.

Instead, now, they can finally cherish being a Permian graduate.

“I think everybody’s kind of ready for the next step, and just excited to see it,” Vardeman said.