The 45 fifth-graders gathered outside the jam-packed gymnasium in Norrisville Elementary School.
As each pupil's name was called, the teachers gave words of encouragement, followed by a kiss, a hug or a handshake. Then the pupils walked to the stage before a crowd of applauding family members and school staff.
"This event is the culmination of the fifth-graders' elementary school career," said Sharon Wimer, a fifth-grade teacher who helps coordinate the program. "But it's more than that. It's a chance for the fifth-graders to say goodbye to the whole community."
Principal David Wallace addressed the pupils at the annual Farewell Assembly, a tradition started at the school more than 30 years ago to honor the outgoing students.
"Today is your day, fifth-graders," Wallace said. "You've earned it. I attended my first farewell assembly about five years ago, and I wondered, 'What's the big deal?' But now I know the big deal. There are two things that you need to bring when you come - lots of love and a box of Kleenex."
Then the children recited a poem called "Unity":
I dreamed I stood in a studio and watched two sculptors there.
The clay that they used was a young child's mind, and they fashioned it with care.
One was a teacher, the tools he used were books and music and art.
One a parent with a guiding hand, and a gentle loving heart.
The poem illustrates the bond the teachers build with the students and their families, Wimer said. "This poem says how we felt throughout the year. We were united as a family," she said.
Noah League agreed.
"I've been at Norrisville Elementary for all six years, and I really got to know everyone here," said League, 10, of White Hall. "I am going to miss them a lot. It's really sad to leave. I am the last of my parents' children to go through elementary school."
Several of the students found the program bittersweet.
"Everyone looked up to me today," said Rachael Griffin said. "They were proud of me. That really felt good. But fifth grade was the best time I had in elementary school, and I think I would like to stay in fifth grade one more year."
Jacob Birchfield, 11, of White Hall said he had grown accustomed to fifth grade, and middle school left too many things to the imagination.
"We never split up in class, and we always knew what to expect," Birchfield said. "I would like to stay here."
Although he has attended and coordinated the program for several years, it never gets easier, said Scott Grove, a fifth-grade teacher at Norrisville. "When I look at the kids today, I realize that this is one of the last times I will see many of them," he said. "It's hard. Some come back to see us, and that's great, but many of them will leave and never come back."
Stephanie Hanus said she was excited about participating in the program.
"I've been watching this program every year," said Hanus, 11, of Norrisville. "I was nervous this morning and sad. But it was really neat to actually get to participate."
After the presentation of physical fitness, music, art, library, school helper, perfect attendance and academic awards, the students concluded the program with a song and a gift to the teachers and parents. As they sang "I May Not Pass This Way Again," they gave a favorite teacher a carnation and a family member a potted plant.
"For us, this program is the end of something wonderful, and the beginning of something wonderful," said Susan Birchfield, Jacob's mother.
Variations of a farewell program are held at other schools throughout the county.
At Youth's Benefit Elementary, in addition to the presentation of awards, the students give a thank-you letter to a staff member or guest who has been especially helpful during their elementary education, said the Youth's Benefit Principal Ellen Tracy.
"The finale is always a photo PowerPoint of every fifth-grade student and all staff as a baby and now, all set to rock music. Great fun, laughs and tears of joy!" Tracy said.
Students at Darlington Elementary received their award certificates from state Sen. Barry Glassman and then read their "last wills and testaments" for the rising fifth-graders, said Brenda Taylor, school principal.
Though the traditions vary at each school, the meaning is the same. The students get their day to shine, said Wimer.
"Everyone is extremely proud of the students," Wimer said. "So we put a lot of time, love and effort into the program. We want them to feel special and good about their accomplishment of completing fifth grade."