MANCHESTER — The graduating members of the Class of 2012, led by a highlanders band, marched onto Hyland Field for their last formal assembly as students of Manchester Essex Regional High School, surrounded by family and friends.
Some students said the moment was a mix of excitement and sadness, given that they're leaving behind friends, teachers, and familiar faces.
Others in the class of 115 graduates said they were ready to go and looked forward to leaving their small towns and moving on to a bigger city and a new, exciting phase of their lives. Still others shared mixed feelings about both.
"It's kind of bittersweet," said graduate Marisa Lewiecki, who's moving on the University of Massachusetts Lowell, to study business or criminal justice. "We're going to lose our high school friends, but at the same time we're starting something new."
"I'm glad to be going," said Lili Shotewell. "I'm going to be in Boston and am excited for new experiences."
Shotewell is off to the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She said she's headed there to study nursing and wants to work in an intensive care unit. She interned at Lahey Health System's Peabody hospital this spring as part of the high school's SCORE program, which places seniors in internship positions for the last part of their senior year.
"It's a little sad, I made a lot of memories here," said Ian Martin, "but I'm looking forward to (what comes next)."
Martin is headed to the College of Wooster in Ohio. He said he's studying biology and chemistry on the school's pre-med track. Martin said he comes from a family of doctors, and likes the profession.
The students Friday night received words of encouragement and shared a few fond memories with those who spoke.
Valedictorian Melissa More, Salutatorian Maxwell Grove, and Andrew Randall spoke during the ceremonies, along with Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin, Daniel Koughan of the English Department, and Principal James Lee.
"They've been terrific group of kids and had a fantastic senior year," said Assistant Principal Paul Murphy. "I expect nothing but great things in the future for these kids."
Murphy said the class marched to a different drum, and was impressed by how they came together during their senior year.
Graduate Nathaniel MacLeod said he's headed to the University of New England to study business administration — and is not sure where he's going after that.
"It's going to be a difficult road ahead, with debt from college," he said, "but a college degree is definitely worth it."
Haleigh Hunt said she's going to Middlesex Community College to become an ultrasound technician. Like other students, she said, she's ready to move forward after graduation.
"I'm ready to start my life," she said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.