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Banners honor graduates along Florida Keys Overseas Highway

Graduating senior Yasmine Protho, 18, wears a photo of herself and Class of 2020 on her protective mask amid the coronavirus pandemic as she graduates with only nine other classmates at a time with limited family attending at Chattahoochee County High School on Friday.
Graduating senior Yasmine Protho, 18, wears a photo of herself and Class of 2020 on her protective mask amid the coronavirus pandemic as she graduates with only nine other classmates at a time with limited family attending at Chattahoochee County High School on Friday. (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ISLAMORADA, Fla. – Banners featuring scores of yearbook photos are hanging next to the Florida Keys Overseas Highway to honor graduating seniors who will miss out on traditional ceremonies because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Several residents in Islamorada knew that COVID-19 would affect celebrations for the 177 graduating seniors at Coral Shores High School in the Upper Keys. Local businessman Mike Forster helped finance the project to transform yearbook portraits into banners, and Florida Keys Electric Cooperative crews hung them from powerline poles in Islamorada. Each banner has four senior pictures.

Bridget Dougherty, 18, who is planning to attend the University of South Florida, said she and her fellow graduates were surprised by the banners.

“It’s reassuring that people are aware of what we are going through,” Dougherty said. “It’s connected those who have graduated with those who are graduating now.”

Dougherty said she was very disappointed with missing out on traditional celebrations.

“I spent a lot time in school building up to this,” she said. “Graduation is the thing that makes it worthwhile.”

She’s planning to study chemistry and said she will consider post-graduate studies in medicine, hoping to research and perhaps help to cure diseases like coronavirus.