For years, seniors in Tigard and Tualatin have risen with the chickens to catch the sunrise on the first day of school.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Leah Perez, center, snaps a photo of the morning sunrise with friends Emily Stentz, left, and Ellory Doolin, right. The trio are part of a yearly tradition at Tigard High to watch the sunrise on the first day of senior year. The students will return to watch the sunset on the evening before graduation.On a brisk Wednesday morning, students make their way to Robert A. Gray football stadium at Tigard High School, coffee in hand.

It’s odd to see students at the school this early. It’s 6 a.m., a good two hours before classes begin on the first day of school for seniors, but the students seem excited.

Climbing the steps of the stadium, the students chat excitedly as they wait for the show to begin. But there’s no football game or pep rally drawing their attention this early in the morning. Instead, their eyes are drawn to the sky above and the first blush of sunrise.

It’s a senior tradition at Tigard and Tualatin high schools to arrive early on the first day of school and watch the sunrise together as a class.

“It’s something that has happened for a really long time,” said Maddie Mullins, 17.

No one is quite sure when the tradition began, but Connie Jolley, a health teacher and adviser to the senior class, said it has been going for at least the past 15 years.

“The last thing I would have expected is 100 high school seniors to get up at 6 in the morning,” said Tigard senior Yussef Fakih. “But they’re here.”

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At the end of the year, the students will gather together to watch the sunset, to bookend their final year of high school.

There are no clichéd speeches, nor faculty members discussing the year ahead. It’s not about that, Fakih said. It's just about being together as a class.

“You just get up, hang out with everybody and watch the sunrise,” he said.

Senior Henry Ammann sets up a camera near the top of the stadium to capture the moment.

For him, the Senior Sunrise is an important way to start the year, he said.

“To me, it means it’s the start to a great year,” Ammann said. “We get to see everybody and get to know people I haven’t met before and connect with them. We just come together as a group and get ready for graduation.”

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jimmy Ha, Cole Cameron and Nick Stevens wake up after sleeping in a tent overnight on the football field at Tigard High School. School officials say its the first year anyone has camped out the evening before Senior Sunrise.

Tradition to continue

The students start to arrive shortly after 6 a.m. Many are wrapped in blankets or carry cups of coffee to keep them warm.

By 6:24 a.m., the bleachers are about a third of the way occupied as the sky begins to change from a dark purple to a lighter blue.

In the stands, about 200 students watch the light show in the sky together, huddled together and chatting quietly as the sun rises on Tigard High.

Students laugh and smile for photos with their friends as the sun takes its place in the sky, a few quietly listen to music as the sun begins to peak above the skyline.

“It’s something everybody gets really excited about,” Ammann said. “It’s a great way to start off the senior year.”

Down on the football field, a camping tent casually unzips and out stumbles seniors Cole Cameron, Nick Stevens and Jimmy Ha.

The trio camped out the night before to make sure they were ready for the early morning event, they said.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Emilee Heyden and Sarah Schaffer sit with their senior class to watch the sunrise on the first day of school at Tigard High School. The tradition goes back at least 15 years, but school officials say they arent sure when it began.“We are so excited,” Cameron said. “Plus, it saved us, like, 30 minutes of waking up and getting prepared this morning.”

Inside the tent, a large bean bag chair sits in the center of the tent, with several bottles of soda strewn about the floor.

“I can’t believe it’s not a bigger idea,” Stevens said. “It seems really smart to me.”

Fakih said the event draws people from all across the school.

“It feels really good when everybody shows up like this,” Fakih said. “We have football players, drama people; there is a representation of every kind of person in the school. It’s good stuff.”

Jolley, the health teacher, said that is part of what makes the yearly sunrise such a great tradition.

“They all come together as one to celebrate. You don’t always see kids do that,” Jolley said. “That’s what makes it so unique.”

After the sun has risen, the students quietly filter out at about 6:50 a.m., taking a few final photos with friends before disappearing to grab breakfast before classes begin in an hour.

“It’s a beautiful morning for it,” one student says as he heads to class.

Fakih, who is organizing the end-of-the-year Senior Sunset get-together, said the two traditions are great bookends to the year.

“It’s a tradition we want to uphold and keep going," he said. "It’s an awesome thing. It gives you the feeling of your senior year, you are almost done. This is the beginning, and the sunset symbolizes the end.”

The Senior Sunset will be held off campus, on the night before graduation.

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