PEPPERELL -- They came in from the back door of the Nissitissit auditorium, but they would exit as graduates.
Nissitissit Middle School's Class of 2012 walked the stage for the final time Tuesday evening during the Pepperell school's graduation ceremony. As the 164 students accepted their diplomas, handed to them by their teachers, a capacity-crowd armed with cameras cheered them on their way out to summer and off to high school.
It was a fond farewell for many. Student speaker and graduate Kyle Griffiths said NMS was a place he could stand firm.
"Abraham Lincoln once said 'be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm,'" Griffiths said. "These last three years have been some of the best of my life. Besides textbooks and lesson plans, my time at NMS was spent building and improving character."
Volleyball, basketball, cross-country, band, NMS News, writing club, and the Washington, D.C. trip ("Go bus four!" he added) all helped him along on the path to graduation. Griffiths thanked the school's faculty for the opportunity to attend the school and also for choosing him to represent the town as part of Massachusett's Project 351.
"I was chosen to represent Pepperell as an ambassador and spent a day helping the less fortunante in Boston," he said.
Central to all this, according to Griffiths, was something called CLICK. The acronym stands for Courage, Leadership, Integrity, Curiosity and Kindness, and is the central central concept
Griffiths said through CLICK he made "many great friends, met many great teachers and has great memories to look back on. CLICK, he added, is a great guide for building moral character, even into the future. He ended his speech with a quote by Dr. Seuss.
"You're off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!" he said.
Across all subjects students learn at NMS, said Amber Joyce, all have highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses.
"But still, we have all learned a great deal, and our friends and teachers have been by our side," she said.
Joyce emphasized the Curiosity of CLICK, saying that there are no limits to it, and her time at NMS was used exploring new places.
"Thank you to students and faculty for the trips," Joyce said. "There were never any issues or disappointments when we went and the teachers made an extra effort for us."
Recounting a mountain hike, a theatrical version of "A Christmas Carol," the Boston Aquarium and the D.C. trip, she also recognized retiring NMS gym teacher Thomas Janedy as one of those educators going above and beyond. Joyce said she and her fellow classmates are lucky because they may be the last to partake in the student-teacher volleyball game.
"Our time in school will surely be missed. Although we all love summer, we will miss the time we spent here," Joyce said. "We are almost freshman, moving onto different high schools, but I know that NMS will affect the path I will choose after we go out of these doors and on to embrace opportunities in our lives."
In her farewell remarks, Gleason said navigating the journey of middle school was a collaborative effort.
"Teachers and parents have helped in that journey and we can see, because of your excitement and enthusiasm of spending the next four years at high school, we've done our job," she said.
Her closing message: allow that support to continue.
"Always keep people close that have the best interests for you in mind," Gleason said. "I wish you the best of luck, but I don't think you'll need much of it."
The Nissitissit Award was also awarded during the ceremony. It is given to students who have exemplified and demonstrated the tenets and values of CLICK.
Samantha Donohoe, Tyler Libonate, Justin Estrella, Griffiths, Kieley Viewig, Julia Sheehan, Kelsey Hale, Mathew Schouten, Margaret Ritchie, Elizabeth Palmer, Jose Cintron-Ortiz and Steven Lucarotti were named.
Gleason also thanked parent and teacher volunteers who helped out with the ceremony and the day's activities. The middle school hosts a cookout, sponsored in part by the Lion's Club, and a celebration where other students were recognized, read speeches and enjoyed the weather, she said.
She also thanked Superintendent Maureen Marshall, who is retiring at the end of this school year, for her dedication to NMS during her years serving North Middlsex Regional School District.