Co-valedictorians lead Class of 2021 at Marco Island Academy

Lance Shearer

Marco Island Academy made history with their commencement exercises on May 28. Not by having the ceremony in the open air at Veterans’ Community Park – last year, graduating seniors’ families stayed in their cars in the parking lot at the park, as the students exited the vehicles to walk, masked, to receive their diplomas.

This year’s ceremony was different, held on a beautiful evening in a big tent on the field that hosts the farmers’ market, and without 2020’s “plague year” vibe. Hundreds of family members, students, faculty, and well-wishers sat underneath and on both sides of the tent to see the seniors graduate.

What made this year’s commencement historic, said school leaders, was the first-ever awarding of co-valedictorians. Kevin Barry and Johnathan Watt had identical 5.6 weighted grade point averages, and to make it extra special, Johnathan is the son of school founder and board chairperson Jane Watt.

More:Rare, contemporary mansion could be Marco Island's next record sale

Watt’s children mirror the past, present and future of the school. Daughter Olivia went through the school in the modular era, Johnathan finished his senior year as the new building took shape, and her younger son Jacob will move up from Marco Island Charter Middle School in August, starting high school in the new facility.

The original plans to hold Friday’s graduation in the new school was scrapped, said Jane Watt, in favor of cracking on with construction to start the new school year in the state-of-the-art campus in August.

“I wanted them to keep moving, and with COVID, we would have been limited” in a smaller, indoor venue, said Watt.

Principal Melissa Scott congratulated the seniors on staying focused despite “some minor setbacks,” including a Category 5 hurricane, mandatory quarantine, and a year of COVID protocols. Like Johnathan Watt, she referred to the MIA community as a family, and said that, “in the hardest year of my professional life, you brought meaning. Thank you.”

Kevin Barry, who will attend Rice University, and Johnathan Watt, who is headed for the University of Florida, have been best friends since kindergarten, and took turns with their valedictory addresses. Watt noted they had lost “plays, proms, and sports,” and yet “somehow managed to keep our face shields on all 180 days – well, most of us.”

Barry brought his magic 8-ball as a prop and dropped it to demonstrate that “gravity is impeccably reliable,” a quality he also attributed to his classmates, calling them “kind, honest, and ambitious.”

More:‘On the Hoof’: Marco artist Jo-Ann Sanborn exhibits cow paintings at Immokalee museum

Humanities teacher Lori Galiana presented the Faculty Award to Peter Morales, and Scott gave the Principal’s Award, and one of the hugs she had been keeping bottled up for over a year, to Joey Puell. MIPD Officer Paul Ashby accepted the diploma for his son, graduating senior Keaton Ashby, who is already working for a law enforcement agency in Texas, he said.

After a video presentation, and a vocal serenade from performing arts students conducted by teacher Chris Dayett, Watt gave the concluding address. She marveled, not for the first time, about the school that is continuing to take shape against all odds and thanked the graduates for committing to excellence “with less than optimal facilities – also known as trailers.”

Future stories on MIA will emphasize the new “optimal” facilities, but for this evening, the focus was on the graduating seniors who never got to study there. After solemnly flipping the tassels on their caps from right to left, the grads not so solemnly flung them into the air, and headed off into what the future will hold, probably beginning with a little celebrating.

More:Nature is back! Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center reopens

Marco Island Academy Class of 2021

  • Valedictorian – Kevin Thomas Barry
  • Valedictorian –Johnathan William Watt
  • Luis Alejandro Aguilar
  • Keaton Christian Ashby
  • Nicholas Scott Baker
  • Emma Jean Blankenship
  • Allan Borges
  • Russell Brueckner
  • Grant R. Brusco
  • Michael Deangel Camacho
  • Hailey Caitlin Cartwright
  • Tyler Jacob Chute
  • Cody Todd Couture
  • John Flynn Creedon
  • Rachel Elizabeth Drake
  • Casey Rose Erickson
  • Michael Anthony Fabregas
  • Grace McKinley Fields
  • Amelia Lynn Fontella
  • Koby Hasiel Garcia-Lopez
  • Kyler Trent Howard
  • Kendall Paige Jacobs
  • Reese Frances Jones
  • Joseph Douglas Krepel
  • Christopher Allen Lewandowski Jr.
  • Aidan Thomas Libby
  • Brooklyn Roxanne Long
  • Danyell Marie Long
  • Vanessa Lorine Lopez Ortega
  • Morgan Renee Maile
  • Sutton Taylor Miller
  • Peter Ethan Morales
  • Zeke William Morris
  • Nate Nicholas
  • Jacob Hunter Niedbalski
  • Reese Steven Pawlowski
  • Eddie Y. Perez
  • Peyton Phillips
  • Nicole Danielle Politi
  • Kirra Elizabeth Polley
  • Jose David Puell Jr.
  • Connor Ragan
  • Juan Alberto Rojas
  • Sofia Marie Saavedra
  • Taylor Jacob Savage
  • Jasmin Schauer
  • Spencer Siems
  • Bridget Sweeney
  • Megan Sweeney
  • Julian Elias Totten
  • Matthew Joseph Vergo