École Valois, St. Mary kick off COVID-19-friendly grad ceremonies

Graduates gathered on the front lawn of École Valois for their social distanced celebration on Friday, June 19. /Submitted

Mayor Greg Dionne is calling them the class of COVID-19.

This year’s batch of high school graduates is facing something no one has seen in recent memory — how to celebrate a graduation without the graduates.

While the provincial government has loosened some gathering restrictions allowing gatherings of up to 150 people so long as they’re properly social distanced, even that isn’t enough to accommodate the hundreds of graduates, friends and families who would typically pack venues such as the E.A. Rawlinson Centre or Art Hauser for annual graduation shindigs.

Most schools have done with graduation ceremonies what they did with the last four months of their school year — move them online.

St. Mary was the first local high school to debut a streamed graduation ceremony, prerecorded over the past few weeks.

Their video, posted to the school’s YouTube page, premiered Thursday.

École Valois has also celebrated its grads. With a smaller grad class, they were able to use their schoolyard to have a socially-distanced ceremony on June 19.

This week will also see PACI holding parade of graduates — in vehicles — at the school Friday afternoon.

Others have also gone the video route.

Wesmor’s will premiere at 6 p.m. Monday. They handed out diplomas Wednesday. Carlton Comprehensive will air their virtual celebration Friday morning.

“You will always be reminded of COVID-19,” said Dionne in a pre-recorded message played during St. Mary’s video celebration.

“You aren‘t the class of 2020. You will be the class of COVID-19.”

He thanked parents and families for the little celebrations and parades that have been had. He added, though, that he was sad students won’t be able to have their ceremonies in person.

Claire Fischer was sad, at first, too.

She was the salutatorian at St. Mary’s grad.

“Just imagine, if things were normal, the last few weeks would have been filled with goodbyes, skipped classes and many more memories,” she said.

“I know the general attitude is that graduating this year feels like a bit of a ripoff I felt that way too.”

Fischer said that changed when a family friend asked her what she really remembered about other years’ celebrations. Not much came to mind.

“If you were to ask someone about (2020) they would likely tell you they remember that one. That was the year they had virtual grad because of the pandemic,” she said.

“ What a unique opportunity to attend grad in your pyjamas, or out at your family cabin, or being able to share the video with a family member who never would have been able to attend otherwise. We’ve been allowed to celebrate grad in our own personal way, and no one has ever had that before.”

At Valois, principal Catharine Topping said the students were pleased to be able to see colleagues and friends one last time.

“It was kind of an abrupt end for the school year, and some of them have seen each other here and there since, but it wasn’t the same because they weren’t in class together,” she said.

“I think it was a nice way to give them a little bit of closure.”

And as St. Mary principal Mark Phaneuf pointed out, just because they can’t gather today doesn’t mean they won’t ever get to celebrate.

He said something he had never said to any graduating class before.

Ten years from now, if they want to have a class reunion, he’ll be there.

He said he’ll keep his weekends in June clear in 2030.

“There will be a mid-60s, hopefully-retired principal, and a whole host of other staff who would be honoured to gather and celebrate a group of students worthy to be celebrated,” he said.

“You can book it.”

— With files from Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald