Girls in the hall, socially distanced, from front to back are: Alexis Belton, Isabelle Kendall, Georgia Miller, Peri Pickel, Jamie Steel and Hannah Horsman. (Photo submitted)

Observations from a grateful grad class

Chemainus Secondary students share their thoughts on the conclusion to an unusual school year

Graduation ceremonies during a pandemic obviously can’t be considered normal.

Chemainus Secondary School’s Class of 2020 graduates may have had some preconceived ideas about what their graduation night would be like, but COVID-19 didn’t cooperate.

It was still a memorable occasion for the grad class Friday night. With less than 50 students, it allowed a ceremony that at least more closely resembled the real thing than other larger schools could accommodate.

Chemainus grads were grateful the event wasn’t cancelled all together which seemed like a real possibility until the health professional guidelines were recently expanded.

We solicited some members of the class for their thoughts on the experience during this historic year.

“Despite the conditions of the world we’re living in right now, I am very grateful for the staff and administration that worked so hard to put this wonderful ceremony together for us,” noted Alexis Belton. “We all got to be together in the gym and watch our fellow grads walk the stage in the MPR on a projector screen. I think the most important thing for all of us was the fact that we just got to be in a room together after spending three months apart. Overall it was a great evening.

“My expectations weren’t very high, and I think I can say that on behalf of most of the grad class. When we first got an email talking about a virtual grad, lots of us immediately had negative thoughts. I personally even thought about not attending. I am so glad that I did, because the actual ceremony we got was pretty close to normal I’d say.

“It sucked not being able to graduate in front of more family members, community members, and friends, but the ceremony we got was well put together. The experience was pretty much the same as what I’ve seen from previous Chemainus Secondary graduation ceremonies. I think the pandemic hitting during the last three months of my senior year really opened my eyes. I realized that life can change in the blink of an eye and that from here on out I will always live in the moment and cherish what is put in front of me.”

Offered Isabelle Kendall: “I’m so grateful for our grad ceremony. It was very well organized and I could see there was a great deal of planning involved. It was amazing to be with all my peers and teachers again!

“This whole year has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Starting with the fires in February, and the uncertainty around this, and then COVID-19 in March, everything just changed so quickly. In the beginning, I think I still had hope that this would all pass, and life would return to normal. I quickly realized that there was a strong possibility there would be no walk-up ceremony, no prom, no dry grad, no last day of school. It was so upsetting, and I think I actually grieved not having this milestone. At the same time, when I could see that everyone all over the world was experiencing their own degree of loss, it didn’t seem so bad. A virtual grad was being planned, and while I was grateful for this, it was hard to get excited about. I’m so appreciative that our school was able to pull an actual grad ceremony together. I also enjoyed the fact that we were in smaller groups with our family and friends.

“The pandemic has taught me the importance of slowing down, and not to take things for granted, like being in school, or just meeting up with friends. Life can change overnight, but I was reminded of the importance of what truly matters – family, friends and human connection.”

Added Andrea Brooks: “My first impression of the ceremony was honestly low. I wasn’t very excited to sit in a gym and not be able to have my family there. I loved the thought of the traditional graduation ceremony and I didn’t want to break the routine, however this is the new trend is to break routine. Once the ceremony started I was quite taken back by how much I truly enjoyed being in that room with just my grad class. I felt as though we were connected stronger than anytime before and had a proper chance to really have our last moments together. It made up for the times we were not able to celebrate.

“I was expecting a bland ceremony, one where we had to wear masks and sit without talking, no food, no water for five hours when I walked into the gym and saw every chair spaced two meters apart with snacks and water under them. I knew that my night was going to be amazing. It was as little as the food to make me happy and content with my night.

“Having a ceremony like Chemainus Secondary allows you to see all of your friends and family in a safe way. I don’t think this diminished the experience at all. I believe it made the experience much more comforting and unique. I learned in the last three months that my intuition is the strongest emotion/feeling I have, and how to properly use it. The grad class wasn’t as close, we became closer than ever before. We had to make decisions together we never thought we had to make. We learned who we really were, a strong-willed, smart and resilient family.

“I thought the ceremony was better than nothing,” Ryan McMahon indicated. “I mean I didn’t really have expectations going in because I knew no matter what everybody is trying their very best to make an event like grad happen. I thought it was pretty darn good.

“I wouldn’t say it kills the experience,” he added of not having a normal ceremony. “I would say it’s a different experience (unique) one grad year to remember.

“I have learned in the past three months that COVID has hit our world and is doing more than just making everyone sick, it kills. I feel that this is a warning of some sort as well because if something like this happens down the road again everyone will be aware of what the virus can do then.”

CoronavirusGraduation 2020

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Carmen Hardy, left, and Amanda Untalan offer each other congratulations. (Photo by Pamela Dobbs)

Old firetruck provides the backdrop for Chemainus Secondary School 2020 grads. From left are: Amanda Untalan, Kendall Smith, Carmen Hardy and Tristram Nisbet. (Photo submitted)

Trio of Chemainus Secondary School 2020 grads at Kin Beach, from left, includes: Tristan Jack, Aarissa Jack and Mariann Seward. (Photo submitted)

Grad buddies Mark Harris, left, and Kyle Brown. (Photo submitted)

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