PEABODY — Like many other high school seniors this spring, Marc Fournier walked across a stage and accepted his high school diploma, face beaming with pride as his family cheered.

But Fournier’s journey to graduation day was different from most of those others: it marked not only the successful completion of his academic work, but also a successful battle against anxiety and depression, so severe that it once made the thought of graduating and going on to college seem impossible.

Fournier was one of 19 students to graduate Friday morning from the Simon Youth Peabody Learning Academy at the Northshore Mall, in a small ceremony held at the mall.

The alternative high school, funded by the Simon Youth Foundation, an arm of Simon Property Group, which owns the mall, provides a smaller educational environment for students who face challenges in a traditional public school. This was the Peabody school’s eighth graduation; nationwide there are 30 of these schools in 12 states.

Fournier not only took home his diploma, he was awarded a Simon Youth Foundation Scholarship for $32,000 — $8,000 a year for four years. He plans to study fine arts at Salem State University. He was also given the Theodore Bartlett Memorial Award from St. John the Baptist School, where he volunteered.

“School hasn’t always been easy for me,” he told fellow graduates and their loved ones during the ceremony.

His father, Chip Fournier, detailed how his son missed roughly 200 days of school over the last few years. Depression made it difficult to get out of bed many days; sometimes he would go in three hours late.

For a while, Seith Bedard, the academy’s director, would show up at the Fourniers’ Peabody home and bring Marc into school each day, his dad said.

Then, one day, there was a turning point.

Chip told his son he didn’t want Bedard to have to continue showing up each day; Marc agreed.

“And he got up and he went on his way,” Chip said. “He did two-and-a-half years of schoolwork this year.”

The elder Fournier, who was recovering from three shoulder surgeries, would walk him out the door, “and then I sat there praying and hoping that he was going to make it,” he said. “It’s a true success story.”

About halfway through the last school year, Marc began making plans for college. As someone who’s been in multiple plays, he plans to pursue acting when he gets to SSU in the fall.

“I love acting,” he said. “I love performing arts in general.”

‘So blessed’

Nearby, Brianna Wilson was celebrating a similar victory over anxiety and depression.

A Beverly native, she had moved to Illinois to live with her father, but depression and anxiety followed her there. She returned to Massachusetts and enrolled at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.

She spent the first day there in tears in the guidance office. Overall, she missed a year of school in Peabody.

After re-enrolling, someone at the school suggested she consider the Simon Youth Academy. Wilson said she was “so blessed” to have walked through those doors. She thanked her mom for “being my rock” through the whole experience.

Wilson decorated the mortarboard of her graduation cap with a sign reading, “Next stop everywhere.” 

“I know I want to take a year off and try to figure out who I am,” she said.

In his keynote speech, Jermaine Wiggins, a former New England Patriot and Super Bowl champion, spoke of the importance of family in helping students succeed.

The son of a single mom growing up in East Boston, he said he kept reaching for his dreams, propelled by the desire to make those close to him proud.

“Never forget the people who helped you get where you are,” he said. “If you do those things, you’ll be successful.”

Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at amacneill@salemnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill. 

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