Students, parents, and educators mark the 2023 MAST Academy graduation at the Arscht Center, Thursday June 1, 2023. (KBI Photo/Anastasia Ivanova)
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Every graduation is a milestone, but Thursday’s MAST commencement had a special meaning for a portion of the prestigious MAST Academy’s senior class: it featured the first group of students who came in as sixth-graders from Key Biscayne in the 2016 expansion. They stood  proudly in cap and gowns to begin a new path along with their classmates. 

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“The first batch of 6th graders graduating, put your hands together for yourself!” said the assistant principal, Dr. Michael Gould, as parents and students applauded and hollered for this first-time accomplishment. The group –several dozen — were the pioneers of a controversial 2012 deal that modernized MAST while adding seats for Key Biscayne students. 

The shout-out for the 6th graders was just one part of an emotional day at the Adrienne Arsht Center, where proud parents and siblings gathered to commemorate the end of one academic journey – and the start of a new one for 260 graduating seniors. 

MAST, after all, is a school where graduates typically go to top colleges. This year, the destinations included Columbia, Duke, Princeton, Stanford, Tufts, and the University of Pennsylvania.  

Camila Acquarone, the president of the student government at MAST Academy, speaks at the graduation ceremony held at the Arscht Center, June 1, 2023 (Miami-Dade Public Schools Gabby Acosta via KBI)

Regional Teacher of the Year finalist Jefferey Raymond kicked off the ceremony, followed by a color guard drawn from MAST’s Coast Guard Junior ROTC students. The National Anthem was led by members of the school’s thespian group.

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School Board Chair Mari Tere Rojas, who also represents the district covering Key Biscayne, told students: “Never forget where you started your journey. Be true to yourselves,” a line drawing applause from the diverse class of 2023.

But it was MAST Principal Dr. Cadian Colman-Perez who connected pop culture to the ceremony, citing  The Four Agreements, a popular self-help book. She said every student should absorb its lessons as they walk off the stage: Be Impeccable With Your Word, Don’t Take Anything Personally, Don’t Make Assumptions, and Always Do Your Best. 

Then, it was time for  MAST student leaders to speak. Student Government Association President Camila Acquarone spoke on her academic journey by comparing it to the film “Inside Out,” and her classmates’ emotional journey through high school. Throughout high school, she and her fellow students all developed strong core memories, just like in the film. 

“Through much reflection, I realized that high school’s a lot like the movie,” she said, comparing the high school experience to that of the character Riley, who is in the midst of a big life move. 

“Her emotions, fear, sadness, joy, disgust, and anger try to figure out how to guide her through these events. We underwent a similar transition,” said Acquarone, who is bound for Duke.

Senior Class President Andrew Greig speaks at the MAST Academey Graduation, June 1, 2023 (Miami-Dade Public Schools Gabby Acosta via KBI)

But the mood was as celebratory as it was serious. Senior Class President Andrew Greig injected some humor, relating memorable events of the senior class, like getting kicked out of their pep rally junior year and breaking the swing freshman year, to howls of laughter. 

Key Biscayne Council Member Frank Caplan, who as Village mayor brokered the $18 million deal expanding MAST, said the graduation is a milestone and evidence of how the Village addressed “a compelling need for improved public school options.”

Raquel Regalado, the Miami-Dade commissioner who championed the MAST expansion when she was a school board member, agreed.

 “MAST is a wonderful example of how partnership makes everything better.” 

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ANASTASIA IVANOVA is a junior at the School for Advanced Studies and is part of the Key Biscayne Independent's student journalism program. She earlier attended MAST Academy and was a staff writer for the school newspaper, The Beacon, and loves traveling, appreciating art, consuming and producing writing, and developing a greater understanding of the world.

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ANASTASIA IVANOVA is a junior at the School for Advanced Studies and is part of the Key Biscayne Independent's student journalism program. She earlier attended MAST Academy and was a staff writer for the...