Students at a Burbank, Calif., high school recreated their graduation Thursday for a fellow senior who was injured in a tragic car accident just days before the June ceremony.
Olivia Menke, 18, was traveling on Pacific Coast Highway on June 8 with three family members when their Toyota Prius collided with a Los Angeles County Fire Department truck, three days before the teen was set to graduate. The car was severely damaged and required Menke be extracted.
Menke suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her mother, Erica Menke, said she spent about two weeks in the "critical side of ICU" while she was recovering at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
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The teen missed her graduation at Providence High School in Burbank. While reflecting on the accident, Menke said, "I don't have any anger, I just wish I hadn't missed graduation."
Two months after the accident, Menke got the chance to walk at her graduation after the senior class came up with the idea to recreate the ceremony for her.
"I am so grateful that the school did this for us," said Menke's mother. "It is a rite of passage. I would always have felt that something was missing from her high school years. Now we both have closure."
Erica said that more than half of Olivia's graduating class came out for the special ceremony, donning their caps and gowns and joined by about 400 family members and friends.
"Olivia Menke is a force to be reckoned with," said Kerry Martin, dean of studies at Providence High School. "I was immediately and continually impressed by the thoroughness and attention to detail she brought to every assignment."
Menke was salutatorian for her graduating class, honored for having the second highest cumulative GPA, earning a 4.43 over the four years. Menke also boasted a long list of extracurricular activities, ranging from president of the Associated Student Body, to playing for the school's basketball and volleyball teams.
"She is not intimidated by challenges, she is invigorated by them," Martin said.
Menke earned a full scholarship to Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. and said she plans to attend this fall. Her parents want to wait for doctors to clear Menke before she attends.
"Watching the ceremony last night was amazing," Erica said. "She worked so hard for four years and to miss her graduation ceremony was heartbreaking for me."
Menke spent about a month recovering in the hospital before she was released.
"Insurance has made it 100 percent Olivia's fault. Personally, I blame the safety of PCH because it's like pulling out onto the 405 (Freeway)," Erica Menke said.
Menke still has scars from the car crash and glass stuck in her arms, but said she feels "fine, for the most part." She has been moving forward with her life since the collision.
"It's just made me want to stay determined to fix things that are broken," Menke said.
LACFD said it was pleased to hear about Menke's condition and wished her a full and swift recovery.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Menke with medical expenses.