Manitoba teachers, parents reimagine graduation ceremonies amid pandemic

By | May 23, 2020

Staff and parents of students at the high school in Morden, Man., are going to great lengths to ensure the graduating class of 2020 can celebrate the milestone with some pomp and ceremony, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, Morden Collegiate staff will arrange to present a diploma to each of the roughly 125 grads — one at a time — over the coming weeks. Those presentations will be filmed, edited together, and screened at the Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Morden as part of a grad presentation on June 25.

“When we realized that we weren’t going to be able to have a grad in our traditional way here, a lot of us started brainstorming about what kinds of things we could do to honour and celebrate this great group of kids,” said Marianne Fenn, the principal of the school. She’s also the parent of one of this year’s graduates, as are five other Morden Collegiate staff.

Gowns have been ordered for the graduates to wear as they receive their diplomas. If public health directives allow, the students may be filmed receiving their diplomas individually at the school, on a decorated stage. But if that’s not possible, Fenn says staff will deliver them to grads in person.

She says school staff plan to start filming the diploma presentations at the beginning of June, in the lead-up to the presentation at the Stardust.

Even at half capacity, the drive-in should be able to accommodate one car per family, Fenn says. There could be a second showing for extended family, too.

Gowns waiting for the Morden Collegiate class of 2020. Staff at the high school in will arrange to present a diploma to each grad — one at a time — in June. Those presentations will be filmed and screened at the city’s drive-in theatre on June 25. (Submitted by Marianne Fenn)

Fenn said staff had to come up with several different plans as public health orders have changed over the past few weeks, but the hard work is worth it.

“We know that this isn’t … a perfect replacement for what they would normally have celebrated,” she said.

“What I hope is that they realize that the adults in their lives … have rallied hard to put our collective efforts behind creating some sort of a semblance of celebration that is worthy of them.”

While Fenn will get to see her daughter participate in some sort of grad ceremony, other parents aren’t as as fortunate.

Victoria Blackwood says St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg, which her son John attends, hasn’t yet announced its plans for graduation, but she fears he’ll have to pick up his diploma at a drive-through ceremony.

“I just really feel for the grads of 2020,” she said, who have seen many school activities cancelled along with in-person classes.

“It’s their last year of memories at their high school, their last year to build relationships with friends that they may have gone to school with for many years, and it would be a great thing to recognize their achievements and their hard work.”

Belinda Loschiavo’s son Aeden is graduating from Kelvin High School in Winnipeg this year. She says thinking about all the celebrations he’s missing out on makes her emotional.

“You’re so proud of them that they’ve gotten through all of this and graduated and are moving on,” she said.

Aeden and his mother, Belinda Loschiavo, are upset there isn’t a big graduation celebration. (Submitted by Belinda Loschiavo)

Loschiavo says Aeden was told a possible Kelvin graduation ceremony could include a walk through the school to say goodbye to it, but he doesn’t like that idea.

“They want to have that Grade 12 experience that everyone else gets to have,” she said.

Blackwood says she’d like to see a modified outdoor graduation ceremony this June — a “Made in Manitoba idea”— and she sent a letter to Premier Brian Pallister to ask about it.

Although limits on gatherings were recently relaxed — now allowing for up to 50 people to gather outside — Pallister said that’s “extremely unlikely” at a press conference on Thursday.

“We love you and we want you safe,” the premier said.

“I know that you’re missing an opportunity to share in this experience to give some closure to your K to 12 studies and to be with friends in a way that you’d like to be.”

Blackwood believes there’s a way to be safe while still recognizing their achievements.

“I think you still can keep them safe if they’re physically distancing the six feet and you are outdoors.

“I think there’s a way to do it. You have to be innovative.”

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