TOWNSEND — On June 7, 181 teens marched to "Pomp and Circumstance" and took in the last 12 years of public education one last time before graduating North Middlesex Regional High School.
There was heartfelt speeches from students, tears from parents in the audience and students bouncing beach balls in the crowd. Or at least the beach balls used to be there until Barbara Guerriero noticed how the common beach accessories were blocking photographs and distracting from speeches. In 2005, she sat down with the graduating class to remind them of something.
"I told them, 'This isn't just your graduation,'" Guerriero said this month. "I said, 'This is for parents who've put you through 12 years of school and the staff who've facilitated that. I'd like everyone to see you.'"
Though she's been retired from working at the school since 2015, Guerriero is still more than happy to put together the graduation ceremony for North Middlesex.
Guerriero originally worked as a paraprofessional for the high school from 1997 to 2015, but spent time after school volunteering for extracurricular endeavors including coaching varsity cheerleading and being the class adviser for eight years. She would also frequently volunteer to help set up educational events for the school.
"I like to talk to kids, not at kids," Guerriero said. "I like them to feel comfortable when they talk to me. I have a lot of respect for them and have gotten a lot of respect from the kids. This is like my second home."
Guerriero first moved to Townsend from Medford in 1987 when her first child, Sheri, was about to start kindergarten. At the time, she had started her own in-house daycare program for young children, many of whom she noticed had disabilities. She said that when one of the older kids in her program was about to start school in the North Middlesex district, she heard about an opening at the high school for a paraprofessional. From there, her generous nature spread to other programs in the school.
"Anything they needed, I'd help with," she said. "It's just who I am. I'm here for the kids, I love them. It's important to realize with kids today that if you give them a chance to show what they can really do, they're remarkable. You just have to give them a chance and they will amaze you."
Her charitable spirit has been passed on to the students she's worked with over the years. She mentioned how cheerleaders she coached have previously been honored by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association for their community service and other prior senior students have helped school staff with events.
Guerriero was still helping the high school during the year, sitting with longtime friend and fellow volunteer Susan Hamel taking admissions to the school's Power Puff Games where students from different classes played flag football.
"I call her and she's here, no matter what it is," Hamel said. "I remember some years ago we had Patriot Pride Day showcasing school spirit at the beginning of the school year. I was cooking barbecue in hot weather for all these kids, so I called and asked her, 'Can you come help out here?' And she was there."
"I love it," Guerriero said. "I remember when I retired I said, 'Don't worry, I'll be back,' and everyone stood up and applauded."
Jon Winkler: jwinkler@ nashobavalleyvoice.com