SPARTA, NJ - The weather could not have been more perfect as the Sparta Middle School eighth grade students received their certificates of completion.  Family and friends filled the stands on Sparta High School's Cassels Field on Thursday evening to witness the students receive their recognition.

Assistant Principal Tracy Rivera began the evening leading the flag salute and offering words of welcome.  Assistant Superintendent Dr. Daniel Johnson spoke next.  He shared some thoughts with the students based on the words of his hero Muhammad Ali.  He told the students it is not the climb up the mountain that presents a challenge, "it is the pebble in your shoe."  Johnson told the students to take care of their metaphorical pebbles before they get to high school such as bad study habits and poor attitudes.

Student Council President Haley Capeci addressed her fellow students saying middle school has "taught me to write my own story... If you want to be a leader don't be a shadow. There is plenty of room in the sun for everyone, leaders are what we need," said Capeci.

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Brad Davis, Assistant Principal announced the names of several students receiving awards. 

The RoNetCo Shoprite Supermarket gave two awards: The Ambition and Cooperation award went to Olivia Finkledie, the Personality and Common Sense award went to Gregory Puszcz.

The Student Council Purchase Prize went  to Ande WIttenmeier for her "Stylized Lettering project; the word Dragon, altered the letters to resemble objects that represent that word."

The Herb Libourel Award is presented in memory of a former principal at the "Sparta Junior High School who instilled in students the importance of service."  This award went to Lauren Groff. 

The William Calvani Award was given to Jessica Fenners for her demonstrated involvement in community service, going above and beyond in helping others both in and out of school. 

Three students received recognition as Extraordinary Students for their commitment and support for the Adapted Physical Education class.  The students are Reese Abrams, Nancy Nester, Deanna Lubertazzo.

The Daughters of the American Revolution recognized two students for Haley Capeci for Good Citizenship and Michele Scaglione for Outstanding Work in American History.

Three gold medals were won by eighty grade students at the Russian Olympiada at Drew University earlier this year.  Ande Wittenmeier had a score of 93, Anna Tartaglia scored 95 and Rachael Sosik took first place with a 98.

Principal Michael Gregory was next to the podium.  He reminded the students he had been their "principal for five of the last six years," and had gotten to know them and their families.  He said their "acceptance of each other's differences is something to be proud of."

Gregory said, "Being a teenager is not easy these days" but reminded them they have the support of their teachers, family and friends.  He asked the students to "turn to each other, introduce themselves and wish them luck." 

Next he asked them to take out their phones and "text 'Thank you and I love you' to someone in the stands, mom, dad, grandparents."

The students were called to the stage one by one to receive their certificate and a hand shake from Gregory.  

Additional TAP photos of the event