For nearly 2,000 young men and women — 1,997 as of yesterday — in Charles County, their moment has finally arrived after 13 years of study and all that goes with it.

One graduation procession — for North Point High School — took place last night at North Point (which plays host to all seven public high school commencement ceremonies), and Lackey, La Plata, McDonough, St. Charles, Thomas Stone and Westlake hold their commencements today and tomorrow.

As part of a well established rite of passage, high school students cross the stage one by one as their names are called out, shaking hands with the principal and accepting their long-sought-after diplomas. It is a moment like no other. A moment of real achievement, satisfaction and triumph.

No longer children, they are ready for the next phase of their young lives. College, military service, careers, marriage, children and all the other challenging, exciting and beautiful trappings of adult life lie before them like a yellow brick road. The sky’s the limit.

High school graduation is one of those glorious, momentous milestones — and the only one they will all share and celebrate at the same time, with friends they may have known since prekindergarten. Turning their tassels as one is a truly communal and memorable moment in the commencement ceremony.

These local graduates, including those from private schools in the county, have shared a lot, and now they will be going on their separate paths from here on out. You’ll hear lots of talk this week about all of the memories and friendships they pledge to carry with them.

What they’ll also carry with them is the valuable education they received in public and private schools in Charles County — and the real value of that is something they can’t truly know yet.

Their school careers were judged by numbers on tests and letters on report cards — numbers and letters that have propelled them toward the diplomas they are picking up this week and toward the futures that lie ahead of them. But how their time in the classroom will shape their lives and careers is something that can’t be quantified by those numbers and letters. It will be revealed indirectly in the knowledge and values that inform their choices, and how they meet the challenges they will soon face.

But it would be a mistake, and it would diminish their achievements so far, to suggest that now Charles high school graduates are about to enter the “real world” for the first time. They’d be the first to tell you that high school is certainly already the real world — with all its complexities, its challenges, its accommodations, its obstacles, its joys and its sorrows. Many have had to grow up fast. They can all tell you, it’s been pretty real already. At this point, anybody graduating from high school in Charles County was an infant or not yet born when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred.

Indeed, the journey all of Charles County’s newest high school graduates have already traveled deserves to be acknowledged, respected and celebrated. These young people have navigated an increasingly rigorous academic path to get to this point. Most of them are much more familiar and comfortable with advancing technology than their elders.

And maybe best of all, they possess an enviable energy, enthusiasm and eagerness to turn the next corner.

Nobody of any age knows what life has in store for us next, but Charles graduates are hitting the ground running this week.

They have worked hard, and they deserve recognition. We salute them. We congratulate them.