Seventy-two students from the American School of Dubai recently stepped into the world of adulthood, completing the first milestone of their academic journey. At their high school graduation ceremony, the students looked nervous, thrilled and happy.

Their excited laughter and tremulous voices drew this Notes reporter to the corridor, where they were all lined up in rows of two. Their obvious anxiety and trembling hands did not detract from the beauty of their glowing faces, their neatly combed hair and their long red gowns - gowns of success.

Some of them were busy talking to each other; others were fixing their caps, while many were busy reassuring their friends that everything would go off well.

I could sense the rush of adrenalin each time the professor announced a countdown of sorts to the time they would have to go up on stage.

Nervousness finally got the better of one of the students, who loudly declared: "Let us go now…" And yes, it was time to go.
A moment of pride
The audience clapped as the students walked into the hall, each girl with an escort.

Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, folks and relatives watched in admiration. This year, the commencement speaker and guest of honour was James Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly.

"This is an important day that you will remember for the rest of your lives... the huge life shift you're about to make: from a life that's mainly at home, and under the guidance of parents and teachers, to a life that is mainly yours to make up day by day... Here's one thing your teachers might not have told you about: It's a time when you set many of the habits that you'll carry out through the rest of your life. Our character is the accumulation of things we do each day. In the end, we are our habits, so it's worth developing good ones.

So I've come here to tell you: to keep a global perspective, but feel responsible for some particular place; embrace the challenge of your time and find a way to be of service; and recognise that you're setting the patterns for the rest of your life," Fallows said.

What students said

"I have mixed feelings. I am happy yet nervous. I am so happy that I am graduating after all this hard work, though I am a bit sad because I will miss my friends. I have applied to a university abroad to study investment banking," said Avinash Kethwani.

"Well, I am excited, nervous and sad all at the same time; happy that I am finally graduating and sad that I will miss my school and my friends. I have applied to study management abroad," said Tanya Gamwani.

"Obviously it is a relief. After worrying about examinations and studies it is good to have some time off," said George Abboud, who won the Award for International Understanding bestowed on a senior who is a good representative of his/her country, who is conversant in at least two languages, and has contributed to the school and helped further the cause of international understanding.

"Winning this award was a surprise for me because I totally forgot about the awards the school presents during graduation. It is only when the principal was stating the qualifications needed to win this award that I realised that I might get it.

I think studying languages is really important; I know English and French perfectly and a little Arabic, German and Spanish," said Abboud.

"I am going to do my internship on a magazine in Shanghai in China. The internship was my own initiative, and I have chosen China because it is a strong and fast-growing country, and this would be my first trip there, so I am looking forward to it.

"I will study political science and I will do a minor in the German language." Abboud had a word of advice.
"I have learnt that grades do not make a big difference. One should focus on the extracurricular activities and life experiences, because those are what shape one's personality," he said.

The valedictorian

"I have never been happier in my life. Next year I will start as a fresh student, I will meet new people and I will lead a completely new life. I will join Harvard to study pre-medicine. There every student is a high-achiever, that is why I am so excited about joining Harvard. Of course, I want to focus on the learning experience and definitely on my grades because I want to get into medicine afterwards," said Casra LaBelle, the valedictorian of the Class of 2008.

"Joining Harvard was my choice and no one has helped me get in. Actually, being an all-round student, participating in some regional events and gaining these exceptional academic experiences and having good grades are what helped me get acceptance.

Near future plans?

"Last summer I volunteered for a public health study project on nutrition and diabetes, led by professor David Jenkins, faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto. This summer I plan to finish working on this project.

"I was kind of expecting this award (valedictorian), because I worked so hard during the academic year. I used to stay in studying during weekdays, and I have had the highest GPA ever since ninth grade."

A word of advice.
"I believe anyone can do well if they have the desire and the willpower."

High achievers of the class of 2008
- The valedictorian: Casra LaBelle;
- The Salutatorian: Darius Atmar;
- The Distinguished Service award winner: Catherine Munro
- The award for International Understanding: George Abboud;
- Senior Arts Award winner: Sean Rooney;
- Dale Haus Waldoch Visual Art Award winner: Amna Hussain
- Megan Garrison Athletic Award: Sam Steinke;
- The Mike Ross Award winner: Julia Ridley;
- The Ambassador's Award for Academic Excellence: Darius Atmar