ELK GROVE (CBS13) — Heartfelt hugs and tears of joy after thousands of high school students walked across the stage in one of the first in-person graduations in our region on Monday.

“It is kind of surreal,” said Laguna Creek High School senior Josef Weston.

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He was in awe of all his classmates – the class of 2021 – in one place at the same time.

“It’s been a hard journey, but I’m glad I’m here and I’m glad I made it,” he said.

Distance learning during the pandemic impacted students and their entire families.

“We were trying to make sure they could be on, upgrading our internet, making sure it was quiet in the house. So we are very excited for this day,” said Josef’s mom, Samatha.

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Ashley Sarmiento just moved here from Florida.

“It was hard to be online in a new school. I really don’t have much friends here, but I got through it,” she said.

Several schools will celebrate in-person graduation with multiple sessions over several days to accommodate for COVID-19 protocols. School district leaders say it took a year of planning to coordinate with 4,500 students.

“We have social distancing in place, a limited amount of tickets, all the seats are spread out for all the students on the field, so we feel really good about the day,” said Melanie Dopson, who is the director of secondary education.

Once inside, the singing, the speeches, and the hat toss were all a familiar scene symbolizing a lot for those on the final steps of a long journey.

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“It’s been quite a year. I’m glad it’s coming to an end,” said Mohammed Abdullah-Taheri.