ISLAMORADA(CBSMiami/FKNB) – A yearbook photo is a traditional memory keepsake for high school seniors, but having that photo transformed into part of a banner hanging along U.S. 1 in the Upper Florida Keys is not so common.

The banner commemoration was the brainchild of several residents in Islamorada who knew that the COVID-19 pandemic would affect celebrations for the 177 graduating seniors at Coral Shores High School.

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Local businessman Mike Forster helped finance the project to transform yearbook portraits into banners and Florida Keys Electric Cooperative crews hung them from the utility’s powerline poles. Each banner features four senior pictures.

“So we got this little idea of taking the senior pictures, blowing them up on canvas banners, hanging them on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway so the graduating class could get a little bit of notoriety and a little feel of being special since they weren’t getting the proper sendoff and a normal graduation,” said Kimberly Gray, a project organizer. “Everybody stepped up and the kids, the majority of them had no idea of what was happening until they drove down U.S. 1 and saw their pictures hanging.”

“It’s just a little special moment to send them off to their next chapter in life,” Gray added. “Something cool.”

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Coral Shores Senior Jessie Head, 17, who is headed to the University of Central Florida in the fall, said she was disappointed that the coronavirus pandemic had an impact on graduation celebrations.

“It is really disappointing that we’re missing out on some of these milestones in our life,” she said. “Some of us have been looking forward to this for over four years now. It’s like our traditional graduation, having prom and we’re just missing out on so many senior events.”

But she is grateful for the graduate portrait program.

“Not many people can say they’ve had their portrait on the side of the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys,” said Head, who plans to study environmental engineering. “It’s just a special way to honor our class.”

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