An emotional crowd of about 350 gathered and witnessed the end of an era on Friday as eight young women marched into Town Hall and became the final graduates from Provincetown High School.
Dressed in black caps and gowns, the eight graduates sat onstage as the audience of family, alumni, and community members, applauded and celebrated their accomplishments.
"I don't think it could have gone any better," said graduate and cosalutatorian Kaitlyn Lee Silva, 18. "It was a really hard moment, because growing up in Provincetown, it's just something that was always known: If you grew up in Provincetown or Truro, you always knew you were going to Provincetown High.
"I didn't know whether to cry or to be happy to be graduating," she said.
The decision to close the school was made three years ago when Silva's class was in its freshman year, said Kim Pike, the principal of Provincetown High School.
The student body continued to shrink, which led to the shut down, she said.
Silva's class was given a choice: attend another area high school on Cape Cod or stay as the final graduating class, she said.
A few students decided to attend other schools, said Pike, but Silva and her seven classmates opted to stay.
By their senior year, "it was just the eight of us," Silva said.
Fellow graduate Molly Nelson, 18, said the decision to remain at Provincetown High was an easy one.
"I've lived in Provincetown since I was going into kindergarten and worked all the way through the system," she said. "I couldn't picture myself anywhere else."
Pike said she became the principal of the school when the eight graduates were freshmen. "I've been there exactly four years. They are my first freshman class and my last senior class. It was such an honor for me," she said.
The decision to end the high school program was a difficult one, said Pike, but being able to phase it out gradually helped.
"We had a chance to transition the program," she said. "That's given everyone the chance to mourn together, to go through and understand what's happening.
"This year we decided to make it a celebration," said Pike.
"We really reached out to the community to give us stories about this incredible high school, to look back and reminisce and celebrate."
The high school building at 12 Winslow St. has been around since 1931, she said.
The town will still have a prekindergarten through eighth-grade program, but high school students will travel to other schools such as Nauset Regional High School or Cape Cod Regional Technical High School, said Pike.
During the ceremony, heartfelt speeches were delivered, scholarships presented, and alumni were honored along with this year's graduates, said Nelson.
"Everyone was really watching intently," she said. "It was like having a giant family. People just wanted us to succeed."
Nelson said another senior described the ceremony and situation as "a tragic honor" in her speech and couldn't agree more.
"It's sad to see it end," said Nelson. "It's sad to see the students dwindle and the halls become empty. But at the same time, I feel blessed to be a part of the school. Being the last class is a special thing."
Derek J. Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.