BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -  Columbia Middle School's 209 eighth grade students celebrated their promotion to high school on Monday night in an indoor ceremony at the Kenneth Stiefel Theatre at Gov. Livingston's Davis Hall.  The graduation originally scheduled to take place at Frey Field was moved indoors due to the weather forecast.

Columbia Middle School principal Frank Geiger spoke to his graduating class, as he does each year, with words of wisdom to "put down the digital everything --- spend more time in the natural world where clouds don't hold data but imaginations, leave the bitmojis behind and share real smiles and forget Snapchat and have a long talk," he said. "But walk your path -- it need not be straight, but let it always be forward towards something you are seeking. Always try your best, do well and save space for others."

Geiger told the graduating students, on behalf of the entire faculty and staff, that "it's been a pleasure watching you make your ways through sixth grade, to seventh to eighth. A journey you took together, but each of you, in your way, made it your own path. So it will continue when you move on to high school and beyond."

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The indoor ceremony began with the procession of students walking to the stage while the Columbia Middle School Orchestra performed. Students Kyasia AhKao and Rebecca Candelora led the flag salute.

Kelly Donfield provided an enthusiastic Welcome Address reflecting on her positive middle school experience. An experience that started with questions and the formation of new friend groups. "As my time here comes to an end, I am proud to say that all of my curious questions about middle school have vanished -- only leaving ecstatic memories and knowledge to carry me throughout high school," she said.

Judith Rattner, Superintendent of Schools, provided the students with her words of advise to focus on developing their own self confidence. "I truly believe it is the key to success. It is very important and an indispensable characteristic which will help you accomplish remarkable things no matter what you choose to do in life. It is the key to winning and excelling," said Rattner.

She told the students to make choices based on "how it will help you to grow and allow you to make differences in lives of others,"  and to seek out challenges and embrace new opportunities.

Like Geiger, Rattner's hope is for the students to put the phone down and focus on the people you are with. Her inspiring words included, "love life every single day," "be positive and passionate," "approach problems as temporary obstacles." She told the students to have a dream -- "When opportunity meets preparation, truly incredible things can happen to you," she said. 

After Rattner presented the Class of 2017 to Board of Education President Doug Reinstein, Brianna Cagan and Sophia Cresitello read the names of their classmates as Reinstein, and board members Christine Reilly, Denis Smalley and Dr. Gerry Crisonino presented the diplomas.

Ritika Sinha-Chaudhuri gave the Class Address of what Columbia Middle School has taught her.

She asked herself a "crucial question" that will aid her for the rest of her life, "Why not me?"  

"I learned it here at this very school. -- You can do it," she said.

"I wanted to tell you how much this school and teachers have given. They, along with my family and peers have given me the support, their confidence in me, and showed that they believed in me," said Ritika. "Because of that, I can believe in myself."

Ritika leaves her classmates with these words to ponder -- "Because of Columbia Middle School, I can confidently ask, Why not me? -- So, I also ask, why not you?"

The ceremony ended with a reception hosted by the Columbia Middle School PTO where the students and families took advantage of photo opportunities.

TAPinto Berkeley Heights wants to congratulate all the graduates and wish you the best of luck with your high school and future journey.