BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – For 18 local teenagers, law enforcement will never look the same.

The students, boys and girls, made up the first graduating class of the Berkeley Heights Police Department’s Youth Academy. They graduated Friday afternoon in a ceremony at town hall with their families and many members of local and area law enforcement in attendance.

“It hasn’t been all that long ago that I was a police cadet myself,” Chief Michael Mathis told the students, who sat in the first two rows clad in matching Youth Academy t-shirts, black shorts and black baseball caps.

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Mathis said he’d been wanting to conduct a youth academy for awhile, and said since his own days as a cadet, he’s believed in its importance.

“You represent me,” he told the cadets. “You’re a part of me and a part of this department.”

Officer Jason Massimino, who was the lead instructor, gave the families a brief recap of the week, including an observatioin that in the five years he has lead such academies, he has never seen a better class.

“They’re grown-ups,” he said. “This was by far the best class I’ve had.”

The ceremony included a video of the week’s activities. Set to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and a bit of Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” the video showed the cadets each day of their training, which included many military drills.

Each cadet received a medal from the chief, and will get a certificate in the mail.

The graduates included Hayley Berliner, Eric Cerqueira, Joseph Delia, Mary Delia, John Friedlander, Andrew Ippolito, Joseph Koczot, Kristen Koczot, Kayla Laygo, Edson Lin, Michael Lipere, Andrew May, Michael Mitreuter, Ryan Nieves, Rachel Skerker, Owen Tansey, Bryant Wang and Skyler Williams.

Instructors include Patrolman Jeanne-Marie Mocarski, Patrolman William Fettes, Patrolman Ed Gaffney, Patrolman Nicholas Franks, and Dispatchers Brian Nigo, Anthony England, Jackie Testa and Frank Mea.

Assistance in the academy also came from the Berkeley Heights Volunteer Fire Department, the New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit, the Union County Sheriff K-9 Unit, the Union County Corrections Gang Unit, Special Agent Martin Feeley of the FBI, Special Agent Will Huston of the ATF, Special Agent Tim McMahon of the DEA, Special Agent Bill Matelski of the Secret Service, Union County S.W.A.T. and the Union County Bomb Squad.

Mathis said the academy is dedicated to the memory of Captain Stephen Stamler, a 23-year veteran of the Berkeley Heights Police who died of a heart attack in 2009.

Another Youth Academy begins next week.