Perfect attendance key to new car for two Hillsborough grads

A contest goes awry, but a car dealer delivers a doubly happy ending.
Published June 8 2013
Updated June 9 2013

TAMPA — Shaking with nerves, Monica Tromer slipped a key into the driver's door of a new Scion XD. She twisted it one way, then the other and felt a click.

But there was no fanfare, no loud horns, no instant celebration announcing her as the winner. Assuming the quiet meant she hadn't won, the recent Gaither High graduate walked back to her seat after only half-heartedly testing the door handle.

Tromer, 18, was one of more than 100 Hillsborough County high school graduates who participated in the Perfect Car for Perfect Attendance event Saturday at Toyota of Tampa Bay. Students qualified for a chance to win a car by not missing a day of school during the last semester.

On Saturday, names were drawn one by one to choose from the 10 keys in a bowl. But when the last key failed to open the car's door, Tromer realized something had gone wrong.

Maybe that click had meant something, she thought.

As organizers scrambled, Tromer rushed to the stage.

The keys had been returned to a pile. There was no way to know which key she had used. It only seemed fair to start again, organizers said, giving each of the 10 students another shot.

Key No. 1 did the trick.

As television cameras descended upon Davie Chen, a fellow Gaither High graduate, Tromer stepped aside.

"I felt a click, but I was so nervous," she said as her eyes welled with tears. "I thought a horn was supposed to go off."

She was told she would get a consolation prize, but it didn't make the situation any better.

"It's just so unfair," she said. "They should have let us keep our keys longer so we could have retried."

She didn't realize the event's organizers had overheard her pain.

"We're sorry we put you through all this," said Brett Morgan, operations director for the Morgan Auto Group, which owns Toyota of Tampa Bay. "We didn't set out to give two cars away today, but we feel it is the right thing to do."

With a smile on her face, the tears finally came.

She hugged her mom and she hugged Chen. They're both headed to the University of Florida this fall. She plans to major in pre-medicine while he studies molecular biology.

Still, only one of their new cars may make it to Gainesville.

"I don't have my driver's license, yet," Chen, 17, admitted. "Now I have the motivation to get one."

Tromer, who didn't have a car before, plans to get a lot of use out of hers.

"Now I get to come home from college more often to see my parents," she said.

Together the two called their principal to share the good news. They left a voice mail.

"We won a car," they said in unison.

"Gaither!" Chen added with a fist pump.