COLUMBIA – South Carolina Connections Academy, a tuition-free, online public school serving students in grades K-12 across South Carolina, celebrated nearly 620 graduating seniors during the school’s annual high school graduation ceremony. Hundreds of family members, friends, teachers and administrators gathered in Columbia for the ceremony on Friday. Valedictorian Catherine Drosieko and Salutatorian Benjamin Owens served as student speakers.

Five from Laurens – Laya Elam-Diaz, Taylor Thomason, Jada Fuller, Tara Goodwin and Matthew Lane – received their diplomas.

The class of 2019 spans the state, with graduates residing in cities and towns including Florence, Anderson, Aiken and Fort Mill. The 67 percent of graduates who plan to attend two- or four-year colleges or universities are headed to schools including Carnegie-Mellon University, U.S. Naval Academy, American Musical & Dramatic Academy, Full Sail University and Savannah College of Art & Design.

Among the graduates was Landon Graber, a stellar student who came to South Carolina Connections Academy seeking a flexible school schedule and dedicated teaching staff so he could have time to pursue his outside-the-classroom activities, such as a part-time job and serving his church. Landon is attending Anderson University in the fall to study graphic design on a full academic scholarship.

Another standout senior is Samantha Specht, who will attend Clemson University School of Nursing with the hope of one day becoming a nurse. Specht enjoyed the flexibility of the online program because it enabled her to volunteer with the Lexington Medical Center and explore various health- care fields while attending school.

This year’s graduates have impressed me with their depth of knowledge and passions,” said Amanda Ebel, executive director at South Carolina Connections Academy. “We’re extremely excited to see what the future holds for these talented and motivated seniors, and are grateful for the opportunity we’ve had to be a part of their education.”

South Carolina Connections Academy currently serves approximately 4,750 students in grades K-12 across South Carolina. The school’s students work with certified teachers who are specially trained to engage students in online learning using the school’s award-winning, proven curriculum.

South Carolina Connections Academy juniors and seniors benefit from the school’s flexibility, which allows them time to research colleges, take on a part-time job or pursue extracurricular activities. Students also take advantage of S.C. Connections Academy’s diverse course catalogue, including Career Technical Education (CTE)elective offerings.