TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Students at Tigard High School gather at Sunrise Park on Bull Mountain to watch the sunset on the eve of their graduation. It's a tradition that takes back years, and helps students celebrate the end of their high school lives, and the beginning of the next chapter.Standing on a secluded spot on Bull Mountain last week, about 200 Tigard High School students kept their eyes focused on the sky.

The students were there for one reason, and one reason only: To watch the sunset.

It was a moment The students had waited years for.

Senior Sunset is a tradition at Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood high schools, with graduating seniors at each school finding a quiet spot to celebrate.

At Tigard High, students gathered on the evening before graduation at the awkwardly named Sunrise Park to watch their high school careers come to a close.

For more photos from Senior Sunset, visit The Times' Facebook page.

“With Senior Sunset, it all comes to an end,” said Tigard valedictorian Sela Brazier. “It’s a chance where we’re able to get together one last time. Tomorrow (at graduation) we won’t be able to take pictures with everybody and hang out like this.”

It’s a bookend to the beginning of the school year. In September, seniors woke at 6 a.m. to gather at the high school and watch the sunrise on the first day of their senior year.

But while students were quiet and contemplative as they watched the sunrise back in September, the sunset of their last official day as high schoolers was much more of a celebration.

An hour before sunset, students were already setting up blankets in the grass. Pop music blasted from speakers as students found spots to mingle and wait for sundown.

“Come take a picture before the sun sets, Kylie,” one girl said, grabbing a friend by the hand and leading her toward some friends.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The Tigard High School class of 2015 poses for a group photo as the sun sets on June 4, the night before they graduate. As with the morning sunrise nine months earlier, there were no speeches. Yearbooks were passed around and friends took advantage of the lighting to snap photos of friends.

Seniors Cassie Reardon and Ashley Holzgang have been friends since they were first-graders at Durham Elementary School. They said that the tradition helps bring the entire student body together.

“We’ve been looking forward to this,” said Reardon, 17, looking up as the sun inched toward the horizon. “We do the Senior Sunrise, too. We start together and finish together.”

It’s an important time for the students, Brazier added.

“All of these people are from different groups around school, but we’re all here together,” Brazier said. “It’s really fun.”

The tradition dates back more than a decade, said Connie Jolley, a health teacher and senior class advisor.

“They all come together as one to celebrate. You don’t always see kids do that,” Jolley told The Times in September. “That’s what makes it so unique.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cassie Reardon, 17, left, and Ashley Holzgang, 18, have been friends since 1st grade at Durham Elementary School.As the sun finally sank below the horizon on Thursday, a cheer went up from the crowd.

“We did it,” a student said as the sun began the final part of its descent. “We graduated from high school.”

“Does it feel like we’re finished with school?” another asked as she settled on a blanket next to a friend. “It doesn’t feel like it, yet.”

Students gathered for a group photo after the sun set, squeezing everyone together for one last memory before making their way back to their cars.

They had a big day ahead of them, beginning with a senior assembly at 8 a.m. the next morning, followed by graduation rehearsal.

Reardon said that the sunset ceremony may was the start to a new chapter in their lives.

“It’s a great tradition, I love it,” she said. “It’s exciting, but at the same time, it’s bittersweet.”

Tigard High School seniors graduated Friday, at Tigard High School.

Tualatin High seniors graduated Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Sherwood seniors graduated Friday at Sherwood High School.

By Geoff Pursinger
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