With mortarboards fixed securely to their heads and black gowns rippling in a light breeze, the seniors of the Camden Hills Regional High School Class of 2011 strode through downtown Camden in an annual processional that makes a community smile with pride.

The march falls every year on the Monday preceding the Friday evening graduation of the seniors, and begins a week-long tradition of pageantry, pomp and circumstance. The June 6 march began at 4:15 p.m. at Camden-Rockport Middle School and wound down Mechanic Street, through Tannery Lane, and south along Elm Street.

The sidewalks of downtown Camden filled with waving and cheering, as Camden police halted traffic along Route 1 for a spell, and a community encouraged their seniors on to graduation.

Led by bagpiper Tom Seymour, the procession finished at the First Congregational Church of Camden for baccalaureate.

The baccalaureate is a tradition handed down from the Middle Ages, from England and France, and is a worship service honoring the pursuit of learning. While the students no longer are required to deliver sermons in Latin, they are expected to observe and give thanks for their education.

In Camden, the baccalaureate takes on its own tradition, and is multi-denominational, with clergy representing the Chestnut Street Baptist, St. Thomas’ Episcopal, First Universalist and Congregational churches, and the Adas Yoshuron Synagogue all participating. Seniors filled the front pews, with family crowding in behind and onto the balcony above.

On June 6, the church windows were open to the mild afternoon, and the congregation sang “Amazing Grace,” their voices spilling out onto the nearby streets. There were Hebrew Bible readings, and New Testament readings, words for the seniors, choral bells, and a congregational dedication: “For all of the people we have known throughout our school years, for all that we learn in and out of school, for all of those who touch our lives in the future, we give thanks. As we enter a world filled with challenge and diversity, may we be tolerant and accepting of others. For the diversity which makes us one, we praise the Maker of this wonderful universe.”