LEWISTON — Sixty-one Montello Elementary School students were in the spotlight Wednesday night, honored as the best of the best writers during the school’s silver anniversary of the Night of the Stars.

The ceremony was held at the Lewiston Middle School auditorium, which was decked out in banners, flowers and balloons. Host Peter Geiger, wearing a black tuxedo, greeted the audience and said hanging in the Montello School foyer are 24 plaques with the names of 1,177 students who’ve won over the years. He was pleased to give principal Deb Goding the 25th plaque with the more names.

On stage behind Geiger was an oversized number “25,” along with a screen showing pictures of ceremonies since 1988.

Night of the Stars is hosted by Geiger, a Lewiston business that has “adopted” Montello Elementary School. It’s an annual, Oscar-style awards ceremony in which young writers are given the star treatment, including arriving in a stretch limo.

“Did you like the ride?” Goding asked the audience of students, teachers and families.

“Yes!” students answered.

Before the winners were called to the stage to accept medallions, Geiger announced a special guest was joining them, U.S. Sen. Angus King, speaking from Washington, D.C.

The audience buzzed. King’s smiling face appeared on two screens at either side of the auditorium.

King told students it was great to be with them, and it’s important to celebrate achievement.

“Often, we worry about things that don’t go right, but sometimes when we have successes, we don’t celebrate enough,” King said. “What you’re doing is really terrific. Congratulations. Celebrate. Feel great about yourself. You’re a great success story in Maine education, and I’m honored to be a part of the evening.”

Among this year’s winners were two six-time winners, fifth-grader Ryan Belanger, and sixth-grader Brook Cloutier. Two students won writing awards for the fourth time, two for the third time, nine for the second time, and 46 were first-time winners.

One writing category was “Furry, Fuzzy, Feathery and Other.” Winners included kindergartner Ayla Gungor who wrote “My Dog,” and third-grader Dale Morin who wrote “Hunting Adventure.”

Another category was “The Wonders of Weather.” Kindergarten student Shamsi Abdinoor won for her “Warm Hands” story, sixth-grader Savannah Jones won for “Sweet Summer.”

As students walked down the aisle to receive awards, music played and a spotlight shone on them. Students dressed up, boys in dress shirts and ties, girls in dresses.

On the stage, after shaking hands with dignitaries — Superintendent Bill Webster, state Rep. Peggy Rotundo and University of Maine System Trustee Marjorie Medd — students had a chance to speak. Little ones often only uttered a “thank you,” while older students had more to say. Fifth-grader Eithan Campbell thanked his family and teachers. He then paused, stared at Geiger, and said, “I would like to thank you,” charming Geiger and the audience.

In the spirit of the silver anniverary, the ceremony included a special guest, Devon Beland.

A hilarious video of Beland winning in 2001 was shown. The little boy with spiked hair sprang from his chair, ran down the aisles waving his arms in excitement to claim his victory. He then hogged the microphone from Geiger to read his award-winning story, “My Pet Lizard,” and give his acceptance speech.

On the stage again Wednesday night, Beland was all grown up, the spiked hair gone. Today he’s an art major at the University of Maine in Orono. Geiger recalled how Beland was an enthusiastic winner. “I’m so thrilled you came back.”

Winning as a little boy “meant a lot to me,” Beland said. “It meant I somehow differentiated myself from my peer group” to dream big and shoot for the stars, he said. “Winning gave me that ambition to work harder.”

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