It’s graduation season, and around Rocky View County (RVC), the Class of 2020 is celebrating its accomplishments despite disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
“We’ve tried to adapt,” said Barry Anderson, principal of Beiseker Community School. “We’ve always said graduation isn’t cancelled…but the way we’re going to celebrate it and acknowledge it is going to look a little different this year.”
In May, Rocky View Schools (RVS) made the decision to cancel traditional ceremonies and banquets because of the pandemic. Superintendent Greg Luterbach called the decision "extremely difficult."
“Graduation is much more than just an event,” he said. “It’s a community-wide celebration that really acknowledges a major milestone in the students’ learning journey. For this year, given the pandemic, we’re just not in a position to have those traditional events.”
RVS tasked its high schools with devising a graduation that would be safe given the pandemic, but still appropriately recognized the accomplishments of its graduating class.
According to Derek Keenan, principal of W.G. Murdoch School in Crossfield, he and his staff built and delivered lawn signs to each graduate shortly after RVS’ decision.
“That was right when this was all starting,” he said. “It was a very tangible way for us to say, ‘We’re thinking about you, and we’re going to get this process started.’”
Both Beiseker and W.G. Murdoch then began planning alternate graduation festivities with input from grad committees comprised of students, parents and teachers.
“From the outset, we took the approach that, this is not my graduation, this is not my idea, this is not my vision,” Anderson said. “I wanted to make sure the plan we came up with was something we came up with as a community.”
At W.G. Murdoch, Keenan said, graduates took part in socially distanced, individual ceremonies May 25 and 26, where they received their certificates and swung their tassels to the left side of their caps. Many families said this was very special, he said, as each student had an individualized moment to celebrate that wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances.
The school also put together a video commencement ceremony, which was made available June 13.
Anderson said the smaller size of Beiseker’s grad class gave it an advantage compared to larger schools in RVS’ urban centres like Airdrie and Cochrane. With only 32 students, the school was able to host a small event June 13 and 14 where graduates walked the stage and had a photo taken in their cap and gown.
Parents organized a drive-through graduation ceremony the same weekend, with a parade of students travelling along Main Street in the Village. Staff members lined the road to cheer on the graduates.
The school also delivered personalized graduation-in-a-box packages to students, containing their cap, gown, diploma certificate and a personalized card. Finally, the school held a virtual graduation ceremony using YouTube.
Both principals said families at their schools were initially and understandably disappointed by the school division’s decision to cancel in-person celebrations.
“This is a really tough situation for all of our Grade 12 students, because they’ve been working towards graduation all of their school careers,” Anderson said.
As plans for alternative grad events were solidified, however, students began to make the best of it.
“Around grad time, there’s a different atmosphere. There’s a different emotion in the air,” Anderson said. “Even though we’re doing everything online, we’re starting to get that excitement.”
Although graduation was disrupted, both principals said it’s important to still celebrate the accomplishments of their students in some form. According to Anderson, graduation is a “rite of passage” and provides an opportunity for students to reflect on what they’ve accomplished.
Keenan added that grad is an important communal celebration, and lets the wider school community – which, in town like Crossfield, can be very tight-knit – recognize the graduates.
“It’s really important to understand the care and connection between our staff and the students is one that doesn’t happen in any other forum in our modern world,” he said. “The teachers and staff at the school really care about the students and really want to see them succeed.”
“We definitely know that they’re off to great things, regardless of the circumstances of our world right now.”