Queen Charlotte College principal Tom Parson blinked the occasional tear from his eye as he looked over students receiving awards at the college's 2012 prizegiving on Thursday night.
The college community celebrated the students' sporting, community and academic success under the eyes of teachers and staff who sat on the stage behind a table covered in trophies.
Sitting centre-stage, Mr Parsons watched proudly as students received awards during the 2 hour ceremony.
"The training wheels are officially off. You're on your own journey now," he told them.
Student success was outstanding, particularly compared with general standards around the country, he said.
"We have, as a nation, dropped the ball. One-fifth of students leave school without NCEA [qualifications]. What a waste of our young talent."
The answer was education, having pride in yourself and your school, and that was what the leaving students exemplified to the younger students at his college.
Former prime minister and education advocate Peter Fraser would be "astounded" with the quality of students if he visited the college, Mr Parsons said.
He farewelled teachers leaving the school and school board chairman Trevor Hook, who will leave the board in May.
Olympic Games gold-medal-winning rower Joseph Sullivan was "devastated" to be too unwell to present the sports awards.
"The wonderful thing about Joseph's achievement is that we are all part of that. We value each and every one of you."
The ceremony included the inaugural awarding of the Forbes Wilson Trophy, named after Mr Wilson, who retired from the college after more than 30 years of teaching.
He received a standing ovation and hugged student recipient Dani Gibbs, before making an impromptu speech, in which he said: "This year can be summed up in one word: awesome".
Outgoing head boy Joseph Timms addressed the crowd in Maori, before giving thanks to head girl Cheyenne Conroy-Mosdell for her support throughout the year and called the college his "second home".
Cheyenne, later named 2012 dux of the school, held back tears while thanking friends, family and staff for all the help they had given her during her seven years at the college.
She received an armful of awards, including cups, books and certificates.
- The Marlborough Express