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AYER — Eighth-graders at Ayer Middle School (AMS) have closed the door on their time there, and are forging ahead as they prepare to start high school in the fall.

During a ceremony held June 14, AMS Principal Lyn Lawrence welcomed the audience for the last time. Lawrence retired at the end of the school year.

Reflecting on the recent Ayer High School graduation, she said there seemed to be a theme of kindness that wasn’t difficult to apply to the group before her.

Many of the students volunteer at animal shelters, Loaves & Fishes and the Senior Center, she said, and this class has participated in fund-raisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society and Pennies for Patients.

Urging students to cherish the memories of their academic and athletic accomplishments and the friends they have made, Lawrence ended her final speech by saying, “Play nice. Work hard. Share often. And every once in a while, take a minute to thank the adults in your life. Life is too short to not do this — Do it often.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Brian McDermott then congratulated the high-school-bound students and thanked Lawrence for her “dedication and time at the Ayer public schools.”

“As you enter high school, please watch out for the new middle-schoolers as well as each other,” he said. He also lightheartedly cautioned the group by saying, “Watch out for (Ayer High School Principal Donald Parker) — He knows all the tricks.”

Lawrence then got to present the night’s first award, the President’s Award for Educational Excellence. This award, instituted in 1983, has “provided individual recognition from the president and the U.S. secretary of education to those students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence,” he said.

Having received straight As for the last two years, Nicholas Igo was given this honor.

The Louise E. Gaskins Award was presented by its namesake, a retired math teacher and previous principal of the Ayer Junior High School. Gaskins began describing the recipient of her award as a “remarkable young man who displays character, integrity, hard work, and always goes above and beyond what is asked or expected of him.”

Nicholas Igo received this award as well and was also touted for being top in his class, a Math Counts captain, and a figure skater and gymnast.

Before leaving the stage, Gaskins had some words for Lawrence as well.

“I have known her since she was a young, new teacher, and it is wonderful that at the end of her career she is the head of the school that I once left,” she said.

This year’s recipient of the Sandy Pond School Association Award is Connor Watson, who helped his two brothers achieve their Eagle Scout status and built a reading loft for the Ayer Kiddie Depot prekindergarten room. This award has been given since 1936 as a character award.

Former Ayer Middle School Principal Richard Molloy presented his diligence award to Angela Langford for her “quiet dignity, strong work ethic, academics and joy for life,” and Zak Keeley for his “sense of humor and determination.”

Ingrid Belitsky, on behalf of the middle school’s Parent-Teacher Organization, honored Kariel Swanfeldt and Zak Keeley with the Good Samaritan awards.

With the help of Assistant Principal Richard McGrath, Lawrence handed out certificates to the graduates, before they were addressed by Parker, who urged them to not “worry about failure. You should worry about the chances you miss when you don’t try.” He encouraged them to “get involved. Taste all of what high school has to offer.”

Before the recessional, eighth-grade teacher Lolly Capasso thanked Lawrence for her five years of leadership at the helm of the middle school and wished her a wonderful retirement.

Lawrence thanked the crowd and the Ayer community for welcoming her and making her feel like a part of the town for more than half of her life.

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