Drive-in graduation: Marco Island Academy holds commencement in parking lot

Lance Shearer

It was a graduation ceremony like nothing that anyone present had ever seen.

With Marco Island still trying to protect its people from the coronavirus pandemic, Marco Island Academy (MIA), the island’s charter high school, graduated its seniors on Friday night, in a ceremony held outdoors in the parking lot at Veterans’ Community Park.

With 47 graduating seniors, the cars of the graduates’ families made a semicircle on the asphalt, 47 separate vehicles each holding a graduate in cap and gown and their family members. Some of the minivans and SUVs were decorated with signs, painted slogans and helium balloons, as the school did its best to give the seniors a sense of celebration for their accomplishments of the past four years.

“It’s a drive-in graduation – like a drive-in movie, but we’re having an in-person event. It was really important for me to have a ceremony for these kids,” MIA principal Melissa Scott said before the commencement commenced. “They’re wonderful, warm kids – they deserve to be recognized.”

Salutatorian Lauren Faremouth welcomed the graduates, families and faculty after a moment of silence.

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“Growing up, we dreamed about this day,” she said, but they never dreamed it would play out as it did. As well as finishing with an academic rank second only to valedictorian Sarahi Lopez, Faremouth received the Principal’s Award from Scott, along with a hug the two could not refrain from, despite the social distancing orders they were supposed to follow. Scott made it clear how hard that was for her.

“I long for the day when hugs return. I owe you all a hug,” she told the graduates. “My mission was to bring the class of 2020 together one more time,” never having believed that when they left school for spring break, they would never be back on campus as a group.

“After tonight, a new chapter will begin for you – but so much of you will remain with me. I will carry you with me forever,” said Scott.

In her valedictory address, Lopez pointed out she was a newcomer to the country and the island.

“I am an immigrant, brought here on an airplane at the age of 10. I didn’t like standing out, and I still don’t, but I’ve learned to stand up for myself a little bit, learned some important leadership skills,” she said. “But I’m still not sure where I’m going.”

While nothing in these turbulent times is sure, Lopez, who earned a 5.32 GPA and performed over 450 service hours, is headed to Wellesley College, her “dream school,” this fall.

Graduate Susan Linn and father Ron Linn await her turn to "walk." Marco Island Academy, Marco Island's charter high school, held a "drive-in" graduation ceremony for their 47 graduating seniors Friday evening in the parking lot at Veterans' Community Park.

Dominic Moller was presented with the Faculty Award by art teacher Rob Eder.

As the graduates’ names were called, they exited from the family car to stand at a distance from each other while they waited for their turn to be handed their diploma – and refrain, in most cases, from a hug.

At the end of the ceremony, Scott directed them to once again get out of their cars, for the ceremonial flipping of the tassels on their mortarboard caps. And with that, the drivers gave a prolonged blast on the car horns, augmented by the sirens of the police vehicles in attendance.

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The new permanent MIA academic building is under construction, with completion expected around January 2021, said founder and board chairperson Jane Watt. So this year’s seniors are likely to be the last class ever to graduate from the modular buildings that currently make up the school’s campus, which will become just a memory.

Like their “drive-in” graduation ceremony, it is a memory that none of the graduates is likely to forget.

Marco Island Academy
Graduating Class of 2020

Valedictorian – Sarahi Lopez **‡ç

Salutatorian – Lauren Elizabeth Faremouth ‡

Amanda C. Aguilera ‡

Cassandra Alonso

Heidi Marcia Ashby

Savana Rain Baez

Ellie Ann Ball * ‡

Tessie Marie Bendersky * ‡ç

James Stuart Cameron

Emma Luisa Lorayne Coppola

Hunter Daniel Delgado

Christian James Figueroa

Ryan Michael Gangl

Grace Katherin Genzer

Savannah Taylor Heimerl * ‡

Wesley John Hertgers ★

Prestley Lane Irvan ‡ ★

Camden Michael Jones

Michael Braden LaCava * ‡

Abigail Anne Lewandowski

Susan Raynie Linn

Savannah Mae Long

Malley Erinne McGuire ‡

Landon Chase McLain * ‡

Chastity Nöel Miller

Dominic Lewis Moller * ‡

Caitlin Elizabeth Moyer ** ‡

Angel Nicole D. Owen Turner

Jenna Lynne Palumbo ** ‡

Kathleen Teresa Portu * ‡ç

Alexis Nichole Pratt

Bekzodjon Rahmonov ‡

Bertha Jenifer Ramos

Marisa Lynn Roathç

Grace Rosemarie Roloff * ‡ç

Cassandra Scalia **

Cameron Ian Seligson

Reynaldo Sierra

Michael Kenneth Stoico

Kyan Sue-A-Quan

Ryan Michael Sullivan ★

Damien Thomas Tschida

Ryan Arthur Wallace ‡

Reef Clay Weber ★

Sean Kennedy White ★

Kloie Ema Whitman *

Marley Kate Wilson ★

The asterisk (*) denotes AICE Diploma candidates.

The double asterisk (**) denotes AICE Diploma recipients.

The ‡ symbol denotes National Honor Society members.

The ★ symbol denotes International Thespian Society members.

The ç symbol denotes Science National Honor Society members.