Most high school seniors spend hours watching from gymnasium bleachers as each student is called by name to walk across a stage. Somerset Island Prep decided to change the paradigm and shake things up- Key West style (I’m not talking about Fantasy Fest or 6 toed cats).
Florida boasts more personal watercraft per capita than any region on Earth, so it made perfect sense when Somerset Island Prep school in Key West decided to hold their commencement ceremony via personal watercraft.
Key West is a relatively small island, measuring in at just eight square miles. Closer to Cuba than Miami, Key West is home to around 25,000 full-time residents. Its not surprising, then, that this small charter high school had a graduating class of only 15 students.
Family and friends watched from the shore, while grads strapped on lifejackets under their gowns, and boarded watercraft just steps away from Key West’s famous Mallory Square. Videos released on Twitter and YouTube show graduates zipping around the harbor enroute to accept diplomas from the school principal, who was also on a personal watercraft.
How did this wacky tradition start? The school conducted its first watercraft-based commencement a few years ago at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and masking rules were in place, and the school decided to implement a creative solution to a problem that high schools across the county faced.
While the COVID-19 pandemic and its draconian mandates are largely behind us, the tradition stuck. Now this small school of 80 students holds all of its annual commencement ceremonies out on the water. Personal watercraft fans will all agree that if given the choice between being stuck in a high school gymnasium or enjoying a nice afternoon by the water- they would take the latter.
“This final ceremony for our seniors represents the same theme that has played out throughout the entirety of their time at Island Prep: that no barrier is too large to overcome and that through creativity and hard work we can overcome any challenge,” Principal Tom Rompella said in a statement issued by the school and reprinted by the Miami Herald.
In addition to our 825 miles of sandy beaches, 7,700 lakes, 11,000 miles of rivers, and 2,276 miles of coastal shoreline, Florida can also boast that its home to the country’s first- but hopefully not the last- personal watercraft graduation.