SHIRLEY -- To the music of "Graduation" by Vitamin C, the 2012 eighth-grade graduates of Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School walked single file down the aisle of the school auditorium. All of the young men wore boutonnieres, and all the young women carried flowers.
After the processional and the Pledge of Allegiance, the eighth-grade band left the stage to play the "Star Spangled Banner," before rejoining their classmates for a memorable, well-choreographed graduation ceremony.
"I've known most of you since the sixth grade," said Principal Richard McGrath, addressing the 126 students in the Class of 2012.
"These kids started as timid sixth-graders, who at times were brought to tears over losing their lock combinations or losing that favorite snowman eraser," he said to laughter.
"When they started eighth grade they were told there were high expectations, and they have emerged with maturity and a new sense of confidence," he continued.
"The Class of 2012 is made up of a multitude of talents -- scholars, outdoorsmen and women, good debaters, community activists, artists, comedians. And on top of it all, you have personality," he said.
"Don't be shy," McGrath offered. "Let people know who you are and what you can do. We will certainly miss you, but we will never forget you."
Take every opportunity
Ayer-Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Carl Mock said leaving elementary school for middle school was the class's first
"No matter what high school you attend, you will be wise to be fully engaged in your education. I encourage all of you to take as many opportunities as are offered you in these next four years, because whatever happens over the next four years, for better or for worse, it will prepare you for the next four years to come," he advised.
Toward the end of the evening, after every student had received his or her middle school diploma, eighth-graders Mackenzie Young and Katie Paul, with sixth-grade student Shannon Mountford, sang a beautiful rendition of "Do I Make you Proud," by Taylor Hicks.
The packed auditorium of families and faculty obviously could not have been prouder.
Winners of the 2012 eighth-grade awards were:
Americanism Essay Contest, sponsored by American Legion Post No. 183: third place, Ryleigh Levensailor; second place, Heather McKenna; first place, Stephen Toomey.
Massachusetts Junior Conservation Camp Award, sponsored by the Shirley Rod & Gun Club: Ryian Vandal.
Academic Boosters Good Samaritan Award, donated by the Ayer Shirley PTO: Francesca Winship and Jordan Oberg.
American Legion Auxiliary Awards: Boy and Girl Excelling in Science, Rudy Graves and Madalyn Jorge; Most Outstanding Girl, Kazmiera Breest.
American Legion Post 183 Award: Most Outstanding Boy, Trent Watson.
Ayer-Shirley Teachers Organization Award: Student Excelling in Mathematics, Danielle Colburn.
The Bull Run Restaurant Award: Student Excelling in History, Erika Bourne.
Ellen M. Tremont Memorial Award: Megan Jamieson.
Jeffrey P. Drobish Memorial Award: Ryian Vandal.
Keith M. Kidder Memorial Award, donated by Hose Co. #1, Shirley Fire Department: Hannah Dixon, Ryian Vandal.
Kristina Marcinkewicz Memorial Award: Mikayla Sanborn and Devin Murray.
Lambert's True Value Hardware Award: Brandon Hamel.
Laura Belle Minott Memorial Award: Heather McKenna and Cayla Justice.
Lenoard W. Quinty Memorial Award: Michael Tonelli and Danielle Colburn.
Liberty House Award: Megan Dean.
Louise E. Gaskins Award: Madelyn Mitrano.
Noyes Insurance Agency Inc. Award: Owen Carpenter.
Officer Ben Jackvony Memorial Award: David Zoller.
PTA History of Academic Excellence Award: Rudy Graves and Danielle Colburn.
Richard D. Shea Memorial Award: Jonathan Durben and Kazmiera Breest.
Roy Jeannotte/Leonard Quinty Memorial Award: Jonathan Durben.
Ruth A. Shea Memorial Award: Casey Worthen and Krista Prehl.
Sandy Pond School Association Award: Leah Robinson.
Shirley H. Griffin Scholastic Excellence Award: Patrick Vachon, Julie Maillet.
Sterling, Shirley Grange, No. 53 Award: Zachary Shattuck and Mikayla Sanborn.
William McSheehy Memorial Award: Quentin Davis.
Women's Auxiliary, Trinity Chapel Award: Bryanna Peters and Jerick Checchia.
World Language Award: Madelyn Mitrano and Julie Maillet.
Al Yesúe Scholarship Award: Heather McKenna.