Twenty five students from SS. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Lehighton pledged to remain drug and violence free recently.

During the D.A.R.E. graduation on Dec. 21, 11 fifth and 14 sixth grade students listened as their D.A.R.E. instructor, Lt. David Midas of the Carbon County Sheriff's department, as well as Assistant District Attorney and Carbon County Judge-elect Joseph Matika, Lehighton Officer in Charge Joseph Lawrence, and SS. Peter and Paul principal Sherry Sernak and teacher Jennifer Lorenz, congratulated them on a job well done.

The Rev. Michael Ahrensfield began the ceremony with a blessing. Sernak then welcomed everyone to the graduation.

She also thanked Sheriff Dwight Nothstein, who was present, for bringing the D.A.R.E. program back into the school.

Sernak introduced Midas, thanking him for being the instructor who the students loved during the nine weeks they shared with him.

"You did a wonderful job," she said. "The results of this program are evident in the reports the students completed. All were excellent."

Midas said that he was honored and blessed for being allowed to teach the students.

"We're here today to celebrate," Midas said. "Over the past nine weeks these 25 students worked very hard to learn to say 'no' to drugs and peer pressure. The students really impressed me."

He explained to the parents in attendance that the D.A.R.E. program is a nine-week training course, started in 1985, that teaches students about the effects drugs and alcohol have on a person, as well as how to say no if someone tries to pressure them into trying drugs.

Midas added that over the last few years, funding has become an issue, but donations from area organizations, such as the Andrew P. Ovsak Funeral Home and Rapa Law Office, as well as many of the school's parents, have helped make the program a success.

"Parents, you went above and beyond with donations," he said. "You really came together to make this luncheon great. Without you this wouldn't have been possible."

Midas then introduced Matika, Lawrence and Lorenz.

Matika congratulated the class for completing the course and explained the benefits of the D.A.R.E. program.

"This is a valuable tool to help parents teach students the importance of saying no to drugs," he said, adding that drugs have increased in the community over the years and it is important to educate the students before they are faced with tough decisions from their peers.

He then asked the students if they had seen the movie "The Lion King," and if they remembered what Mufasa said to Simba after he appeared to the cub in the clouds.

He said "Remember who you are."

Matika said that the students need to remember who they are because it will help them make the right decisions.

"As you graduate from this program," he said as he concluded his speech, "there are certain things I want to challenge you do to. I dare you to resist the temptation to use drugs. I dare you to use the lessons that you learned from the officers involved, your teachers, your parents and grandparents. I dare you to teach others the importance of those lessons so they too can become better people and I dare you to remember who you are."

Lorenz then addressed the students and parents.

"I'm thankful to have the opportunity to be here today to honor your wonderful students," Lorenz said. "These students have worked very hard over the past nine weeks. Midas educated them on important issues, drugs, alcohol, smoking, peer pressure, things that are going to be in their lives over the years. I know they have learned many important things and I know they are going to carry it with them during their lives."

She commended the students for their hard work and asked them to present Midas, Sernak, and the parents who helped with the graduation with thank you cards and gifts.

Lawrence equated the D.A.R.E. program to a sports playbook.

"You're D.A.R.E. book is your playbook," he said. "What would you think if a pro athlete had a playbook and didn't study it? They would always lose the game. You have to study it. You must practice. Get prepared because if you aren't prepared and game day comes you are probably not going to succeed."

He said if the students find themselves in questionable situations and don't know how to respond, step back and take a time out to think things through before responding.

Lawrence thanked everyone for inviting him to the graduation and urged the students to remember the lessons they learned.

Following the speakers, Caleb Kovach and Mary Grace Wilhelm, the essay winners of the graduating classes, read his D.A.R.E. reports. They each received a D.A.R.E. medal and gift card.

Diplomas were then given out to the graduates. This year's D.A.R.E. graduates are, fifth grade: Zachary Andrews, Grace Fitzsimmons, Sarah Giordano, Tatiana Gonzalez, Caleb Kovach, Courtney Kovatch, Robert Kuznicki, Grace Lorenz, Joseph McGinley, Haley Miller, and Galilea Villagomez. Sixth grade: Alyssa Bauder, Sarah Bradley, Zoryana Duda, Antonia Galasso, Joseph Giordano, Julia Glitzer, Valerie Hans, Kennedy Malsch, Jasmine Mooney, Anna Nelson, Emily Roberti, Alexis Rohlfing, Bryce Smith, and Mary Grace Wilhelm.

Midas concluded the graduation program by thanking everyone for attending the event and supporting the D.A.R.E. program.

The graduating class and their parents were then treated to luncheon.