Acadiana-area high school graduates for 2016 marked the end of one chapter of their young lives and celebrated the start of a new one at commencement ceremonies on Saturday.

Lafayette High School was the first of five Lafayette Parish high schools to have its students cross the stage to collect their diplomas at the Cajundome during day-long commencement exercises. Students from Northside, Acadiana, Carencro and Comeaux high schools also held their commencement ceremonies at the Cajundome.

At the morning ceremony, Lafayette High Principal Donald Thornton Jr. and parish schools Superintendent Donald Aguillard both congratulated the 558 Lafayette High graduates on their numerous awards and accomplishments as a class and also gave them advice for the future.

Thornton referenced highlights of the school year and listed accomplishments of the graduating class,which included awards of over $13 million in scholarships collectively, and noted that 433 students scored an 18 or higher on their ACT tests.

Jack Friedberg and senior class President Ambeka Rajvanshi were awarded the American Legion Award, and Caroline Munsell was named Student of the Year.

Thornton left his students with a few words of wisdom before yielding the stage to Aguillard.

“The only one that can limit you is you,” Thornton said. “No one owes you anything. You have to work hard for everything you achieve. Never settle. Never let someone dictate what you are capable of achieving. You write your own story, which is why you are given this gift as you leave today as symbolic inspiration to continue writing your story.”

Aguillard told the new graduates to dream big, to approach change with care, responsibility and a willingness to adapt, and to continue being who they are no matter who or what wants them to change.

“Oscar Wilde said, ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken,’ ” Aguillard said. “You are going to encounter entities and people who are going to try to get you to be someone you are not. The distraction of trying to conform to someone else’s idea of you can only prevent you from realizing your full potential.”

As the graduates’ names were announced and they received their diplomas, family, friends and loved ones cheered, blew airhorns and waved signs. One family even raised a giant cardboard cutout of their graduate’s face.

After the ceremony, students remarked that the occasion was exciting, yet bittersweet. However, most were eager to begin their lives after high school.

“I feel so great,” said Adam Ortego, who will be starting at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the fall to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. “It’s so rewarding to have all my hard work recognized with all the awards I’ve earned and this diploma.”

As gleeful graduates clutched their diplomas with fervent anticipation of their release into the adult world, Rajvanshi told Lafayette High’s newest alumni that even though there are 7 billion people on Earth, everyone is unique and has something useful to contribute to society.

“Every human on this planet shares DNA that is 99.9 percent the same,” Rajvanshi said. “But there is that .1 percent, that .1 percent that makes you special. As we venture forth, remember that .1 percent. Go forth and embrace your .1 percent.”