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PEPPERELL — One hundred and seventy one former eighth graders and their home room teachers filled Nissitissit Middle School’s stage Tuesday night for a commencement ceremony attended by a full house of parents, relatives and friends.

It was the last time they would participate in the salute to the flag as students in their school.

Twelve of the students — which easily could have been 60, according to principal Michael Tikonoff — received the Principal’s Outstanding Citizenship Award, given those who exemplify the schools “core values” of CLICK (Courage, Leadership, Integrity, Curiosity and Kindness).

“Our tradition is to recognize the unique needs of middle school students and instill CLICK,” Tikonoff explained. “We wrestled with choosing nominees. They have no idea they were selected.”

Recipients included Brian Bourgeois, Emily Church, Joseph Clark, Rachel Dows, Shelbey Dutton-Smith, Emily Francis, Kiley Hardy, Casey Libonate, Paul McCarty, Justin Pina, Joseph Recco and Justin Roberts.

Student speaker Tine Seeger reviewed the seventh and eighth grade experience from a student’s viewpoint, including such things as “amazing” field trips and a victory by eighth-graders in a student/teacher volleyball game.

“Now we’re ready to leave a place of comfort. The friendships we made will stay in our hearts forever,” Seeger said.

Student speaker Joseph Clark reminded his classmates of a bus driver on a field trip to Washington, D.C., — known only as “Ernie” — who urged them to “take these things with you and you’ll be the greatest people in the world, because you are now.”

He spoke of teachers who were a “moral compass,” but that there should be something more. It should be more than academics. It should be friends, those made and lost.

Even greater is CLICK, Clark said. The courage to stand up for yourself, to friends and enemies, for “what is right is not easy. It is leadership based on believing in yourself,” and the integrity to “do the right thing when no one is looking.”

The concept includes the curiosity to have a “desire to learn and look for solutions,” he said, and the kindness to “realize everyone is a person.”

There is something larger, Clark concluded. “It is us, every one of us as people. I am proud to have been your classmate, to see us all grow. Commencement means a beginning, the end of the eighth grade but a new stage, moving onto high school.

“Never doubt the power within you. There are no limits to how much the heart can love a human being, to achieve, and to imagine,” he said.

“You’re leaving your home of the past two years (but) you’re ready,” Tikonoff told the graduates. “Get involved in high school. Give something to the school by sharing,” he continued, drawing sustained applause when he told the youngsters to be themselves and not react to peer pressure.

“Do what you feel is right,” Tikonoff advised. “Set high goals, be positive, be good, be kind.”

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