Abbigail Strader beamed as Kennewick Officer Mike Meyer slipped a medal around her neck, moments after the fifth-grader made a promise to fellow classmates.
"I cross my heart and hope to live, and avoid the poisons that are in drugs," Strader told a crowd at Edison Elementary School on Thursday.
She was reading from an essay she wrote for graduation from a 10-week D.A.R.E. program that teaches students about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.
Thursday's graduation in the school gymnasium marked the 25th year that the Kennewick Police Department has taught the Drug Abuse Resistance Education curriculum to students.
The program was started in Los Angeles in 1983 to teach students good decision-making skills and to help them lead healthy lives.
Meyer has been Kennewick's only D.A.R.E. officer for eight years, teaching 1,300 to 1,500 students a year at 15 schools in the district. He goes to at least five schools a year, mentoring youths on how to deal with peer pressure, bullying and drug and alcohol issues.
Meyer handed out certificates Thursday to more than 50 fifth-graders.
He said the program gives him a platform to connect with students and show them that police officers can have a positive influence on their lives.
"In some kids' lives when they see the police, their parents are nervous and the kids may sense that. They may have never had a positive dealing with police," Meyer said. "This is a time when they get to have a positive interaction with me and get to know me. It's nice to knock down those barriers."
Police Chief Ken Hohenberg -- flanked by several of the department's top administrators -- was the guest speaker.
He was the first ever D.A.R.E. officer in Kennewick and has watched as the program evolved to focus on other issues than drugs and alcohol, including keeping kids out of gangs.
"D.A.R.E. helps (students) make wise choices. That's one of the reoccurring themes you hear in their Taking a Stand pledges, " he said. "They talk about making wise choices and doing good things. I really do think D.A.R.E. prepares them to say no to drugs, say no to alcohol and make their own choices."
Four students were chosen to read their essays -- which included their pledges to stay away from drugs -- in front of parents, teachers and classmates.
The others were Jamarie Reed, Jacob Bogenreif and Ariana Mendoza.
-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; email@example.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson