FITCHBURG - "We're like a family!" insisted Tina Lam, vice-president of the North Middlesex Regional High School class of 2013, which graduated Friday in a ceremony held on the campus of Fitchburg State University.
And indeed, there was definitely a sense of family among the thousands of relatives, friends and well-wishers who crowded the recreation center.
"Everyone cares about each other," said class Salutatorian Andrew Jenn, agreeing with Lam. "We've come to know each other so well."
"We're super fun!" exclaimed class President Amy Clement. "We're a very respectful class with lots of spirit. We all come together any time when we need to."
"We know how to roll!" summed up Lam in a burst of enthusiasm.
The class' high spirits and open hearts impressed everyone who knew them including the school's administration and faculty.
"We haven't been anywhere this week where we haven't received compliments about this class," said class adviser Michael Parrish. "In Boston on our senior trip or here in Fitchburg, police and security have all remarked on how polite these students were. They all told us how 'You have an incredibly well behaved group of kids here!'"
"I first met them when they were in the eighth grade and they've held a special place in my heart ever since," confessed Headmaster Christopher Chew. "They were very caring of others and did a lot in the way of service-learning. For instance, their senior project focused on helping others. They were also active in youth sports camps. Those characteristics may not be unusual in most students but with this class there just seemed to be more of it. The feeling was more widespread."
"These kids were very close," observed Principal Christine Battye. "Every class has its own personality but this one was one of the most respectful group of kids I ever worked with. They had a really high level of emotional intelligence and that's unusual for teenagers today."
In her official envoie to the graduates, Battye advised them always to keep alert so that they could "recognize and jump at every opportunity" that came their way.
"You can't allow fear to stop you from going after your dream," Battye continued. "Problems are a part of life" but "you are stronger than you seem and ten times smarter than you think."
Meanwhile, Superintendent Joan Landers urged graduates to save room for "love, compassion and commitment" in their lives and to maintain their reputation for helping.
"You are a great class and always have been," said Landers.
Of the 269 students who graduated, 82 percent have plans to move on to college and at least five have committed to joining a branch of the United States armed forces.
As friends and family looked on, seniors participated for the final time with the NMRSD chorus to sing "Time to Say Good-bye" and the school's alma mater as well as the concert band, which performed a rousing rendition of John Philip Souza's "Stars and Stripes Forever," which nearly brought the house down.
"This group of students has been outstanding. Extraordinary," concluded language teacher Ray Kane during an evening no one who was there will soon forget.
"They've traveled the world and come back to share their experiences with the rest of the community but ultimately," Kane said, "they're a group of people who are reflective, kind and selfless. They're willing to look outside themselves."