GROTON -- At times it felt more like the Academy Awards than a graduation ceremony, but regardless, eighth-graders at the Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School were given a vigorous send off at what was termed a "promotional" event as they prepared for the next step in their education.

"This was a great class with a lot of talent," said Principal Steve Silverman who, at times during the ceremony, made it difficult to tell whether he was a member of the school's administration or the master of ceremonies at a Hollywood function. "I see them all going on to bigger and better things providing that they respect themselves, make good choices, and believe in themselves."

The graduating class boasted 220 students who made it hard to fit all of the family and friends that packed the Middle School's performing arts center on the evening of June 18.

"I think this class was the best because we were all really connected to each other," observed class speaker Jordan Wynn. "We all treated each other well and got along with everyone else."

Wynn managed to give those attending her graduation a sense of that connectedness when she asked everyone to stand and "thumb wrestle" with the person next to them, an activity she said she and classmates participated in since kindergarten.

"For 60 seconds, all of us were connected, working toward some goal," said Wynn after the laughter had died down and everyone had resumed their seats. "Connections will help us in the next chapter in our lives."

"We were all just people," said a modest Mark De Binder who, like Wynn, was named as one of the class' "scholar leaders." "The kids in this class were funny and nice too."

"We had a lot of good athletes in the class," added Dunstable student Eddie Hastings. "No one was ever sad or depressed. No one ever gave any trouble."

"Everyone in the class was friendly and helpful," confirmed mathematics teacher Steve Humphrey. "They liked to clean the classrooms before leaving and we were thrilled when they did it even on their last days. We're just so proud of them. I think they're ready for ninth grade."

"It's hard to believe the year has gone by so fast," mused science teacher Dorothy Dwyer. "They were all very nice kids who always said please and thank you. They were a great class. They all got along together."

"This crew was kind to each other and encouraged each other," said English teacher Emma Blydenburgh. "I can't wait to see how they do in high school."

Family and friends were warmed up for the main event with a slide show before graduates entered the theater to cheers and a hundred glowing smart phone screens as proud parents stood and strained to get good pictures.

Songs were sung by the eighth grade chorus as seventh grade MCs walked through some phony dialogue and canned musical snippets just as it was done at any award show seen on TV.

"What you do next is what counts," Silverman then told graduates in his welcoming address. "How you go about those things determines the person you will become.

"Stick to the real you," continued Silverman and not waste time "looking over your shoulder" at what the other person is doing.

Next up was scholar leader De Binder who told fellow classmates to find their particular talents and figure out what to do with them.

It was a message echoed by keynote speaker Matt Ciccone who graduated from the district's Middle School in 2008 just as the graduates were doing that night.

Ciccone told the eighth graders to take advantage of their upcoming high school years to explore all the opportunities it will have to offer and to seek out and nurture their own talents. The speaker then went on to describe his own journey of self discovery as he joined the school's chamber choir and realized singing was something he liked and could do well. But to succeed, he first had to fail, then try harder until he achieved his goal.

Following jokes by Silverman and gifts raffled off to a pair of surprised members of the audience as well as the principal's award being given to graduate Trevor Kelly, "certificates of promotion" were finally handed out to the eager graduates.

Next up: High School!