Driscoll Catholic 87 seniors were all smiles as they paraded out of their school and onto the football field, received by cheering relatives. Although it was graduation day, excitement about the future could not help being overshadowed by the past.
"I've been here for all these graduations. It's pretty tough," said teacher Esther Lee.
That's because declining enrollment is forcing the 43-year-old school to close its doors for good. The class of 2009 is the last.
Cheers turned into tears as reality sank in.
"It's just a big moment for all of us," graduate Tylar Josefczyk said.
"There's always that thing in the past that, 'Oh, we can come back for homecoming.' And now it's like, 'We can't come back now.' There's that finality about it is overwhelming for kids and faculty," said teacher Dave Wampach.
"This school meant the world to me; to see it go hurts," said Steven Schwabe, a graduate..
Schwabe, the valedictorian of the class, is one of many Driscoll legacies. The school is a place where families come and never leave.
"She is our second to graduate from Driscoll. Sadly enough, we have a freshman son that will not be able to carry on the tradition," parent Kam Nixon said.
Alum John Schiller graduated in 1980, and his son John is now a proud Driscoll graduate.
"I hate that it's the last class, but I'm proud that he is the last class," the father said.
Sunday's graduation followed a fundraising effort to keep Driscoll open. Almost $1 million were raised, but it was not enough.
"We gave it our all, our best, and that's all we could do," Schwabe said.
Driscoll was the kind of place where alumni always returned to the school to visit because it was so small. Unfortunately, Driscoll's shrinking size is why a religious order and the Joliet diocese have chosen to close the school. They told students, faculty and parents that nearly $4 millions would be needed to keep the school open.