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MCAA Grad Speaker Celebrates Hard Work, Diploma During Ceremony

May 2, 2024 | Jeffrey Good

MCAA Grad Speaker Celebrates Hard Work, Diploma During Ceremony image

Marion County Acceleration Academies recently celebrated its first-ever graduating class, marking a milestone in the partnership between Marion County public schools and an innovative high school re-engagement program. 

“We come together to help close out this chapter in your lives, knowing that this success will lead to another success and yet another,” MDAA Director Keyana Lyde told the grads. “We are extremely proud of each of you for the hard work and determination it took to overcome obstacles you were facing when you walked through our doors. Without a doubt, we know that you will continue to conquer and face whatever challenges come your way.”

The ceremony celebrated 21 grads, including Dylan Dotten, who was chosen to give the graduate address. When Dylan walked across the stage at graduation for his former high school and took the dark folder in hand, he thought he had finished his high school education and received his diploma. 

But when he looked inside, he saw that he had only received a Certificate of Completion, he recalls. “I almost cried.” 

High school graduate.

While Dylan had completed the coursework required for his diploma, he had not passed the standardized testing required of Florida high school graduates. Complicating matters, he had a full-time job working in the city public works department in Ocala, Florida, and didn’t know where he was going to find the time and tutoring to complete his education. 

Unwilling to settle for a GED or give up his goal of a diploma, Dylan learned about Marion County Acceleration Academies (MCAA). There, he found, he would be able to get the coaching he needed to prepare for the testing — and take advantage of a flexible schedule to pursue his academic goals while still reporting to his full-time job. And like all public schools, it was free of charge. 

At his old school, he says, “I had some good teachers and I had some teachers who told me they’d be surprised if I made it out of school.” 

At MCAA, by contrast, Dr. Lyde, graduation candidate advocate Shanna Jennings and ESE coach Annette Maldonado-Garcia not only helped him prepare for the state testing but also offered him encouragement at every step. 

Two male graduates stand next to each other, one gives a thumbs up.

“If you have a problem, you can ask a teacher and they’ll help you right away,” he says. “I had a lot more people to help me study here.” 

Traditional high schools feature crowded classrooms, straight-backed seats and bustling hallways. At MCAA, Dylan found comfortable, cafe-style seating, a spacious learning environment and a quiet, studious vibe. 

“It was a lot more laid back,” he says. At the same time, “it’s not a hang-out spot — it’s a good learning environment.” 

Dylan impressed Dr. Lyde and other educators with his work ethic and upbeat attitude. Dylan passed the state testing “with flying colors” and they were proud to invite him to deliver the grad address at the academy’s first-ever graduation in April. 

Dylan was proud as well. “You need to have a diploma in this world in order to survive,” he says. “If you have a high school diploma, you can go just about anywhere.” 

To see photos from graduation day by photojournalist Daniel Wagner, click here

MCAA April 2024 Graduation


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