MADISON, NJ—As the dark clouds closed in and a few threatening raindrops sprinkled the town Friday morning, hundreds of parents, teachers and students gathered on the Madison Junior School lawn for the eighth grade graduation ceremony.

This year’s graduating class is one of the school’s largest, not only in the number of students but in the size of their hearts, said Principal David Coster in his opening remarks.

He reminded students to use their time wisely at the high school; to explore every opportunity and always come to the aid of those in need as they have done at the junior school, he said.

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Commencement speaker and graduating student Tess Callahan had a similar message for her fellow students.

“None of us have a map or a compass or a plan to make it through life, but we do have each other,” she said. “Only by lending a helping hand and by working for and with one another—instead of just ourselves—will we make it through the next four years.”

Embracing your inner personality is one way to find direction, said student speaker Christopher Smith. 

He spoke about his dog, Daisy, a 9-year-old bichon frisé who he said always stays true to herself and never seems to cares about outside judgment.

“I wish I could be more like Daisy—not that I want to eat gross things—but I wish I could be myself no matter what others think,” Smith said. “But then again, why wish? Why can’t we just be like that?”

He went on to talk about his personal journey at the Junior School; how he went from the kid who was afraid to ask where the bathroom was for the first six months of school to one of two students selected as speakers for Friday’s graduation ceremony.

Like Smith, Daisy also struggled with being outside her comfort zone, he said.

“She, too, did not know where the bathroom was, but she didn’t seem to see the point in holding it in,” Smith said. “After a couple of months and some mediocre training she had grown and learned her simple commands, just as we had adapted to the new building, the new schedules and the new people” at the junior school.

Smith reminded the class to let their true personalities guide them toward success at Madison High School. Though many of the graduating students are already entering their teenage years, Smith said he still sees them as puppies.

“We’ve developed our own personalities, but they are yet to be tested,” he said. “I only hope that we—just like Daisy—can grow from puppies into healthy and strong, 15-pound bichon frisés and that we can remain true to ourselves all the way there.”

As the student award winners were announced, the skies opened up, drenching the crowd for several minutes. To avoid more time in the pouring rain, Coster did not call up each individual student to receive their degree but instead graduated the eighth-grade class as a whole.

Here is a breakdown of the Madison Junior School student award winners: 

Student Council Awards

Claire Sales

Connor Wasik

Karel Janssen 

Sinoway/North Science Award

Caroline Johnson

Madison Volunteer Ambulance Award

Tyler Kidd

Conflict Resolution Award

Katie DiGiacomo

Joseph Mezzacca Award

Maggie Perrello

Frank Picone Award

Andrew Price

Carettes Award

Sebastian Bess

Kiara West

Disabled American Veterans Award

Evan Reigle

Amy Mazzella 

Daughters of the American Revolution Award

Claire Sales

Harriett Vanella Guidance Salute

Brendan Mariani

Morris County Middle School Leadership Award

Karel Janssen

“Doing the Right Thing” Award

Madison Camp

Principal’s Award for Achievement

Luca Evangelista