Eighth-grade students at Fort Atkinson Middle School embarked on a new milestone in life Thursday when they were promoted to freshman status.

The students, along with family members and friends, gathered for the annual eighth grade promotion ceremony in the middle school gymnasium.

Logan Kees served as master of ceremonies for the event.

The opening song was “Time of Our Lives” by Tyrone Wells.

The national anthem was performed by Lupe Begovatz, Jonas Boshart, Elijah Burhans, Bryanna Duddeck, Mallory Gasper, Brianna Jones, Bailey King, Albion Mane, Olivia Martin, Kailey McMiller, Jackson Sitkiewitz, Lorena Velazquez and Analiese Walter.

Matthew Wolf, associate principal at the middle school, gave the welcome to all of the students and attendees.

Both eighth-graders Janet Were and Tawney Hadler shared the class history.

“For most of us, middle school has been a great experience,” Hadler recalled. “We learned a lot and grew, both mentally and physically. We have also discovered more about ourselves as we worked our way through sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Friendships have grown and developed, and, while some were lost, many were gained. Throughout middle school, we have had some great experiences together.”

Were said the students all can remember sixth grade, whether some of them would like to or not.

“Some of us look back on our first year of middle school and cringe, while others like myself think back and laugh,” Were said. “Do you remember our first field day? Everyone dressed up in bright colors and gave our all for the different activities that we had.”

One of the most memorable memories she recalled is when Takis became the thing that everyone had to have.

“Almost everyone always had a bag handy in their locker to have during passing time or as a snack during class,” Were said. “Some went as far as to have only a bag of Takis for lunch. Some of us would be in class or even in the hallway fanning our mouths as if that would cool them down.”

Hadler said that in seventh grade, the students were right smack dab in the middle of everything.

“Not quite the top, but not stuck at the bottom either,” Hadler said. “Students were allowed to begin participating in more school sports.”

She said this was the year that she thinks the students changed the most.

“We got used to how the school ran and became more familiar with the layout,” Hadler told her classmates. “I believe that the yearbook theme ‘Get Connected’ helped us see how similar all of us were.

“Whether we are neighbors, friends, teammates or classmates, we are all connected somehow,” she added. “This helped us work better together, which is an important life skill. We had lots of fun together on field day, using these teamwork skills to our benefit. Seeing all of the crazy costume ideas that homerooms had was one of my favorite parts.”

Were said that eighth grade is when the students finally became the ‘big kids.’

“We started having sixth- and seventh-graders look up at all of us in awe ... or so we believed,” Were said. “Whenever we were walking in the hallways and stumbled upon one of them, they would quickly move out of our way. We were told by our teachers and the middle school staff members to set an example for both the sixth- and seventh-graders on numerous occasions.”

Just like seventh grade, she said, the students had even more activities in which to partake.

“Whether you were in FFA, Future Business Leaders of America, both or neither, you still had fun,” Were said.” We were able to keep our old friends and make new ones. This year’s class field trip was to Noah’s Ark, and I know everyone had fun, whether they went on different rides with their friends, played in the wave pool or just laid out on the lounge chairs to talk, to tan, and, in some cases, to burn.”

She said the students all were sitting there Thursday night listening to them give this speech because they have made it through middle school.

“Most of us are excited to leave the middle school and finally move up to the high school, while others are even more terrified than when they first arrived here at FAMS,” Were said. “Middle school has been a place where we have added to our collection of knowledge about the real world. We have learned more about college and jobs.”

She said their teachers have helped the students set their goals and figure out how to achieve them.

“We may not be so clueless and innocent as when we first arrived, but we also aren’t adults quite yet, even if some of us may like to think so,” Were said. “I think this quote says it best: ‘Life doesn’t require that we be the best, only that we try our best.’”

She said she is saddened to be leaving the middle school.

“It has been a place where I have made many memories, but I am happy to say it is on good terms and not good riddance,” Were concluded.

Meanwhile, middle school Principal Rob Abbott offered congratulatory remarks directed at the students.

“Among our students, it is easy and exciting to see the wide range of talents they possess,” Abbott said. “Whether it be in athletics, participation in our many clubs and organizations, extra-curricular activities, or any of the innumerable activities students are involved in throughout our larger Fort Atkinson community and beyond, this class has represented all of us well.”

He said he would be remiss if teachers and administrators did not acknowledge the academic growth they have seen by the many students seated in the gym Thursday night.

“We celebrate all students’ excellent academic accomplishments and growth in their individual learning,” Abbott praised.

This year, he said, staff recognized the Academic Excellence Award recipients — a group that has maintained a cumulative grade-point average of 3.9 while at Fort Atkinson Middle School.

Those students are as follows: Lauren Lescohier, Vivian Riggs, Rachel Edwards, Nathan Hartwig, Calum Fettig, Giovanni Monte, Eleanor Kohl, Remy Nelan, Ethan Larson, Shayna Clark, Ellison Emrick, Morgan Hacht, Sara Mech, Hayley De Mott, Kade Eske, Abigail Frame, Mallory Gasper, Joshua Larson, Paige Teubert, Russell Frey, Quinn Teubert, Spencer Betchey, Jonas Boshart, Lucas Baxley, Kaitlyn Burke, Olivia Martin, Mariah Luebke, Logan Kees, Trent Davis and Paige Mangerin.

“This class has performed well throughout their years at the middle school, and we are pleased to recognize that success this evening,” Abbott said.

He then announced each award recipient in no particular order. As each student’s name was read, he or she came forward to receive a medal of recognition presented by one of the Fort Atkinson Middle School teachers.

After presentation of the Academic Excellence Awards, the principal said that each year it is a pleasure to welcome parents, teachers, students, and friends as they join together to recognize the school’s eighth grade students as they transition to the high school.

“Beyond our eighth-graders, it’s important to take just a moment to recognize another group who have worked tirelessly over the past three years to help your students develop the social, emotional and academic skills they need to be successful at the high school and beyond,” Abbott said.

“As middle school teachers and staff, they do not often receive a lot of recognition from parents or students — instead, they have an intrinsic drive to do the work they do as students navigate the less than glamorous years of adolescence.”

The principal then extended a genuine thank you for all the teachers do in making the Fort Atkinson Middle School what it is, and helping students see who they can be.

“I hope you’ll join me in applauding their diligence and success,” Abbott said.

The principal then offered some thoughts for the students to ponder as they progress with their high school education and beyond.

“Sometimes I wonder if much of anything is original,” Abbott said. “Songs, movies, TV shows, cars and, sadly, even 1980s fashion seem to be coming around again.”

In fact, he said, society seems to be remaking everything.

“Fannypacks, sadly, seem to be getting a whole new life,” Abbot said. “When it was first on the air, believe me, no one thought ‘Full House’ would get a reboot. Who knew that ‘Aladdin’ would end up being a real guy 17 years later?

“And you realize that Every. Single. Song on ‘Glee’ and ‘Pitch Perfect’ are updated versions of past compositions,” he added. “It’s becoming almost as predictable as a Hallmark Christmas movie ending … that, at some time, most things will get remade.”

The principal said he is not sure that remakes necessarily always are a bad thing.

“In some cases, the remake may be even better, more contemporary — enhancing something familiar,” Abbott said. “Building on the best elements of what was.”

And this is the place that the students were at Thursday night — “with the opportunity to reassess, redo, redesign, relook and remake parts of yourself and your class as you move on to the high school,” he added.

For some of the students, the principal said, it might be pretty easy to fall into the sneaky trap of believing that the way things have gone or how things have been over the past three years are the way things have to be moving forward, or what is going on right now is the best thing, or if not the best thing … an at least a “good enough” thing.

“Sort of like when the flavor at Frostie Freeze is pistachio, when you really want blue raspberry,” Abbott analogized. “It’s adequate.”

In reality, however, inadequate or just good enough, isn’t enough, he said.

“I’m not just talking about learning,” Abbott said. “For some, it’s easy to let other people define you, shape you, create you — letting others script your shows, write your lyrics, produce your movies, design your new model — when, in reality, it is up to each of you to take charge of your own remake … to keep in mind that every year, every month and every day is important. The small moments in time, like this one tonight, make up the memories and the lessons we hold for rest of our lives.”

The principal said it might be hard to see, when one is in it, that certain things should not bremade.

“For example, this car … the AMC Pacer,” Abbott said, showing a photo and drawing laughs. “This should never, ever, under any circumstances, be remade … for a myriad of reasons which is an entirely different conversation.

“Just like, for some of you — certain choices, certain avoidances, certain less-than-supportive relationships, and certain times when you just ‘went with the flow,’ should not be remade in high school,” he cautioned.

The principal said there is no doubt that the students will continue to experience significant changes in their lives.

“You will meet new people, enjoy new experiences and face more choices,” Abbott said. “Remember the success you’ve had over the past three years and be honest with yourself about what you wish you would have done differently — that’s called growth; keep the expectations you hold for yourself and others high. You deserve the best.”

He said the world is, and will be, an increasingly complicated place.

“While you cannot change it by yourself, you can have a significant impact, if you choose to,” Abbott said. “Each and every one of you can achieve. Each and every one of you will achieve when you choose to.

“If you need one, this is your chance for a remake,” he added. “Take your time, take a breath, consider, ponder, reflect — and live your life.”

The principal then offered the students his congratulations and best wishes for the years that lie ahead.

“Work hard, prepare to learn from your failures and celebrate those people who support you,” Abbott concluded. “Congratulations to you, the Fort Atkinson High School Class of 2023.”

Both Abbott and Wolf then awarded certificates to the promoted students as their names were called.

In closing, School District of Fort Atkinson District Administrator Dr. Lynn Brown said she was honored to be at Thursday’s promotion ceremony, along with her fellow colleagues, to recognize the 2019 eighth grade class of Fort Atkinson Middle School.

“The recognition of your efforts this evening is important and the next exciting chapter is ready to be written,” Brown told the students. “These next four years offer an opportunity to dream big dreams, make goals and an action plan that most likely will need to be revised.”

So where should the students begin?

“Ask yourself, what am I curious about? You may or may not know,” Brown said. “That is OK. High school is a time for trying different classes, extracurricular and co-curricular opportunities. Just do it! Don’t let any roadblocks discourage you.”

Are you afraid? she asked.

“Everyone wants to look calm and cool, but they’re not,” Brown said. “They are just as scared as you, and us adults remember those feelings, so do it afraid. When you fail, and notice I said ‘when,’ learn from that failure.

“We all fail but it is in the learning that keeps us moving forward,” she added. “Reach down inside of you. Believe that you were created for something special because you were.”

The superintendent said administrators, teachers, family members and friends applaud the students for their achievements.

“We are proud of you, are excited for your journey and look forward to your next four years,” Brown said. “Congratulations eighth grade Class of 2019!”

As the students filed out of the gymnasium, the closing song “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons was played.

A reception immediately followed in the commons.

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