GALLOWAY, N.J. - The Absegami High School Class of 2012 experienced a graduation like no other Thursday night, June 7.
The ceremony was barely complete when the gathered storm clouds, which threatened to unload on the graduation from the start, opened up.
First there was lightning. Then there was thunder. Then, there was rain, and finally hail. The remaining assembled spectators and graduates made a mad dash for their cars, under the bleachers, under school overhangs, and any other shelter that might be provided before administrators were able to open the doors to the school and let them in.
Reeds Road Elementary School was also opened, as was the Roland Rogers Elementary School gymnasium, although in the end, it wasn't needed. Galloway Police did a sweep of the school and the area to check on injuries, missing items and people reported missing.
According to Galloway Police Lt. Paul Dooner, whose son was among the graduates Thursday night, between eight and 10 injuries, mostly seizures and asthma were reported. Two people were transported to the hospital with minor injuries, according to Dooner.
The school was able to be cleared and the parking lots were empty around 8 p.m.
Project Graduation will go on as planned, according to Absegami Principal Dr. Jeri-Lynn Gatto.
"I've seen rain at graduations before," Gatto said. "I saw it coming. I knew it was going to rain. The hail was a bit of a surprise. That was not on the Weather Channel."
"It was definitely something to remember," Absegami graduate Anthony Chong said. "It's something we'll never forget."
"I knew it was going to rain," Absegami graduate Alex Barragan said. "The clouds looked like they were moving in a weird way."
The graduation began at 6 p.m. at the football stadium in front of a packed house of spectators with dark clouds approaching. The clouds stopped while Valedictorian Laura Petro and Salutatorian Danielle Smith delivered their speeches.
For a moment, it seemed as though the rain would hold off until the ceremonies ended. Administrators did their part, barely taking a breath between names and diplomas were conferred on the 437 graduates. Flashes of lightning appeared, and became more frequent as the administrators reached those with last names beginning with 'G.'
The more the thunder and lightning intensified, the quicker spectators began to file out. The announcement of a graduate's name became synonymous with spectators heading for the exit, graduates joining soon therafter.
As the storm began, one couldn't tell if the screams were directed at loved ones graduating or the thunder and lightning that appeared to be creeping ever closer.
All the names were called, and everyone received their diplomas. It was then a mad rush for the exits.
Groups of people attempted to outrace the thunder and lightning. Fear turned to disbelief as these same people began to be hit with hail.
While intense, the storm concluded quickly. Police combed the area looking for those who may have been hurt or lost, as well as missing items. The Galloway Police detail of eight officers expanded to at least 16.
Galloway EMTs, including Director of Galloway Township Ambulance Squad Michael Brandenburger, were available.
Ultimately, the storm ended, and friends and family members were able to reconnect. While there was a sense that most escaped unharmed, some were still hit with a look of stunned disbelief.
It was a graduation like no other, and one that will not soon be forgotten.