Despite the steady rain and gray skies, there was a celebratory mood at the Newtown Middle School’s Moving-Up Ceremony for graduating eighth grade students, which took place Tuesday, June 18, at Western Connecticut State University’s O’Neil Center.
Despite an afternoon thunderstorm that brought inclement weather a couple hours before the scheduled 6 pm start, spirits remained high, as the 450 eighth-graders being honored took refuge from the wet weather.
The large auditorium was abuzz with the excited chatter of family members and well-wishers gathered to celebrate the eight grade students transition from NMS to Newtown High School.
The ceremony opened with two lines of students proceeding through black curtains into the O’Neill Center to “Pomp and Circumstance,” before a large enthusiastic crowd, which nearly filled the expansive bleachers. After filing into their seats positioned in the center of the auditorium, the students received a standing ovation from the audience.
Graduating eighth graders Claire Beiter and Julia Bogdanoff then performed the “Star Spangled Banner.” The two young singers expertly handled an equipment snafu with the help of Principal Diane Sherlock, who steadied a microphone stand that fell mid-verse.
Ms Sherlock followed the “National Anthem” with opening remarks.
“This evening our ceremony will spotlight our students,” Ms Sherlock said. “You will note that all the speeches are theirs.”
Student Council President Robert Hutchins took to the podium after Ms Sherlock and delivered a speech highlighting the importance of community service.
“Our goal is to serve an example to the world,” Robert said. “So find an opportunity to serve our community, and trust me it will always make a difference as it will impact many lives.”
Aysha Hafiz was the next student to address the audience, and did so effectively without using words. Instead, Aysha expressed herself by playing a rendition of Henry Mancini’s “Love Story” on a piano staged at the foot of the rostrum. Her inspired performance won a lengthy round of applause, which Aysha obliged with an modest curtsy before returning to her seat on the stage.
Aysha’s performance was followed by speeches from the five representatives from each of the eighth grade clusters.
Emily Neave, representing NMS Cluster 8 Blue, spoke about the importance of meaningful relationships.
“It is not the amount of followers you have on Instagram, or the number of favorites your latest tweet got that matters,” Emily said before adding, “In the end what should matter most are the friendship we have made, the knowledge we have gained, and the memories we have all created together.”
McKenna Cerney, representing NMS Cluster 8 Green, gave advice to her classmates concerning how to choose their paths in life.
“Whatever you choose to do, make sure it's something you're passionate about,” McKenna said.
Thomas Stanczyk, representing NMS Cluster 8 Orange, offered reassurance to his classmates, that their experience at the Middle School would prepare them for future obstacles.
“The foundation we gained in the middle school will help us deal with any challenges we may face at the high school, college or in life in general, no matter how daunting those challenges may seem at first,” Thomas said.
Kate Luongo, representing NMS Cluster 8 Purple, shared an original poem inspired by a Mahatma Gandhi quote.
“Your future is still a blank page in your story. You decide what happens next. Be the change you wish to see in the world, write yourself a happy ending,” Kate said.
Joseph Conrod, representing NMS Cluster 8 Red, finished off the block of speeches by reflecting on how some of the important lessons he learned during his time at the middle school transcended scholarly knowledge.
“In these past two years of education we not only learned how to succeed academically, but we learned how to put our faith in our friends and their judgments so we could be closer and trust each other more,” Joseph said.
While most of the ceremony focused on the graduating students, the event also held another significance, as this was the last graduation Ms Sherlock will preside over as Principal of NMS. After 14 years as an administrator, Ms Sherlock is scheduled to retire after this school year.
Social students teacher Andrew San Angelo and science teacher Elizabeth Iaciofano recognized Ms Sherlock’s tenure with speeches before presenting Ms Sherlock with a bouquet of flowers.
“[Ms Sherlock’s] passion has been a driving force for students and staff at the Middle School, and that passion is demonstrated every day at the Middle School,” Mr San Angelo said.
“While you have a new home in Michigan, know you always have a home here in Newtown,” Ms Iaciofano said.
Ms Sherlock graciously received the compliments and flowers, and put a bow on the ceremony with her closing remarks.
“I just want you to know that my 14 years at Newtown Middle School has been the high point of my career,” Ms Sherlock said. “I've loved every minute, I've loved the kids, this amazing staff, you're wonderful parents and I thank you for those 14 years.”