Shoreham-Wading River honors Andrew McMorris with posthumous diploma

In a sense, Alisa and John McMorris were like any other proud parents of seniors graduating from Shoreham-Wading River High School last Friday.

Their son, Andrew, would have graduated with this class. Instead, the 12-year-old was taken from them when he was killed by a drunk driver while hiking in Calverton with his Boy Scout troop in 2018.

“We said this from the beginning that we were not going to let anything else be taken from us,” Ms. McMorris said this week. “So my husband, myself and my daughter, Arianna, went to every [school] concert. We all still served. My husband was still an assistant Scout Master and I still served on volunteer boards at the high school.”

She said her family attended “any concert that Andrew would have been in, the school plays, the Honor Society, the graduations — anything where he would have been, we went and showed up for the kids.”

Ms. McMorris said last week’s deeply emotional graduation ceremony — at which the school presented the McMorris family with Andrew’s diploma — was “the culmination of all of us carrying this together.” Heading to the podium to collect their son’s diploma, the McMorris family was nervous, she said.

“My husband’s holding Andrew’s [graduation] cap with a [memorial] pin,” she said. “I’m holding his picture and my daughter’s going up with one free hand so she can grab his diploma.

“As we walked up there it just started to rain, and there was this collective wave in the stadium, where everybody just stood up almost instantaneously with a thundering [applause] and there was this moment where we just burst into tears and felt the love of our community and the rain like tears of sadness. And then, as quickly as it started, it stopped, and it held off just until the end of the ceremony. You couldn’t have planned it like that if you wanted to.”

The family also participated in the annual senior ritual of school pictures.

“We went to the place where the kids were getting their pictures for cap and gown. We got our number, just like everybody else getting their senior picture taken.

“We went in with a picture of him and a [graduation] cap, and that’s his graduation picture.”

Ms. McMorris said Andrew’s friends and classmates rallied around the family, and the family stayed close to them throughout their high school years.

“From the moment Andrew passed away, they embraced me.”

The feeling was mutual.

“I remember going back to the school the week after the funeral, because I didn’t want them to be afraid of me.”

The first time she’d walked into a local store after her son’s death, “people looked at me and looked away and there was this, like awkward silence. I knew I couldn’t live my life like this, and I said that ‘we’re going to learn how to grieve together.’”

For years now, she’s watched the children who grew up with her son mature into teenagers.

This spring, Ms. McMorris was in Albany with the Shoreham-Wading River AP government class, advocating for state lawmakers to a lower the BAC threshold for drunk driving from .08 to .05.

“It was at that moment that I saw these young kids turn into adults,” she said, “And say things like, ‘we’re voting now and we want to see change, we want to be the generation that ends this.’”

The McMorris family accept Andrew’s posthumous high school diploma. (Courtesy photo)

Ms. McMorris visits the crash scene once a month to keep the area clean, “make sure the cross is good, and I refresh the bow and usually lay some baby’s breath, because that’s a sacred place to me.”

She said her son had longed dreamed of flying planes and early on he declared it his aim to get his pilot’s license before his driver’s license.

Having completed a flight camp program that satisfies the requirements for the Boy Scout Aviation Merit Badge, Andrew set his sights on flight school.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida was Andrew’s  “goal school.”   

“Probably a few weeks before he had passed away, he went on the [Embry-Riddle] website to get information from the school, and it arrived in a big yellow envelope on Oct. 1, 2018, which is the day he died.

“We had this big envelope and we had to laugh because we said ‘what 12-year-old applies to college to get an application? Who does that?’

“My son,” she said.

Six months after his passing, his family formed The Andrew McMorris Foundation to keep his legacy alive through fundraising, scholarships, and advocacy.