The high school seniors exited the North Shore Scenic Railroad cars in pairs Friday and traffic stopped while they flowed into Bayfront Festival Park.

Out of the nearly 400 soon-to-be Duluth East graduates came a voice that shouted "Freedom!" upon disembarking.

They all passed a group of exercising moms and their infants in strollers on their way in and fell into Frisbee, football and other random play adjacent to a busy construction project unfolding at Pier B Resort.

But metaphors for the future that awaited them were put on hold.

"My only goal right now is to get a tan," said Avery Cook.

The now annual East Senior Picnic is a school-sponsored alternative to an unsanctioned senior skip day. Younger than the all-night grad party, it's been a tradition at East for five years now. It's safer than the alternative and doesn't leave teachers holding a lesson plan while crickets play out in their classrooms, said assistant principal Jon Flaa.

Besides, there are so many rites of passage packed into the picnic - yearbook distribution, cap-and-gown pickup at the end of the day-long event, a grilled meal together - that the students don't seem to want to miss it.

"I love this," said Piper Shaw, clutching her velvet black Duluth East Birch Log yearbook fresh out of the box. "It's so classy looking."

There was hardly a smartphone to be found as the chatty students almost unanimously chose eye contact.

"They don't want plans; they like to freestyle," said Flaa, himself a 1989 Greyhound grad. "I don't think we give kids a lot of time to get together and just be with each other anymore."

Overlooking a sparkling Superior Bay, the students took great joy - and some regret - in going over their freshman time capsules: a paper inventory of questions the seniors answered upon entering high school four years ago.

"I wish I had answered the questions more thoroughly back then," said Nancy Swanson, already displaying wisdom gained in four years.

Swanson had wanted to be an architect then, but now intends to pursue social work with some music instruction on the side.

Students were reminded of old freshman crushes and bygone music and style choices.

"We've seen a lot of stuff together," said Cook, her group of friends nodding as they recalled a pair of friends lost to suicide.

This is the second class of graduates to spend all four years at the current East High School building that grew out of a refurbished middle school. Three weeks away from graduation, this was their red letter day - shirts everywhere outfitted with a capital E.