Coronavirus: Okanagan graduates find new way to mark milestone

It’s a disappointing reality for many Okanagan grads: the types of ceremonies and events that usually mark the end of high school aren’t possible this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With grad season now in full swing, schools and communities have been forced to get creative to find alternative ways to mark the milestone.

Instead of transitional ceremonies and proms, schools and communities have turned to video livestreams, physically-distanced ceremonies, parades and public displays to mark the occasion.

A normal grad ceremony at Vernon’s Clarence Fulton Secondary would have a thousand attendees.

Principal Lynn Seed knew that was not going to be possible with COVID-19 still a concern.

“Our biggest thought was that we had to recognize our graduates because this is such a huge milestone and we couldn’t let it go unnoticed and un-celebrated,” Seed said.

For Fulton’s alternate ceremony grads came in for specific time slots and were filmed crossing the stage.

The footage will be live streamed to families next week.

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“I really felt the buzz and excitement of all the graduates on Monday as they put on their cap and gown and walked across the stage,” Seed said.

“They were smiling and some were nervous so I really feel they felt recognized. I’m sure there is some disappointment but I hope they were pleasantly surprised with what happened.”

Meanwhile, in Lumby, the community found a way to give grads a memorable send-off as students paraded through town on the back of flatbed trucks decorated with banners and balloons.

Charles Bloom Secondary graduate Noah Clarke said he’d expected his grad class to miss out but ended up enjoying being back with his classmates for the parade.

His school also organized a graduation ceremony at which the family of each student was only present for their student’s moment on stage.

In the end, Clarke doesn’t feel he missed out on much and educators are looking at the pandemic graduations as a life lesson for the students.

“As I said to them: tough situations don’t last, tough people do. I think they’ve learned that they have to think about each other and their family and friends,” Seed said.

“They’ve made me very proud.”

Seed hopes they won’t have to repeat the alternate ceremony next year and the class of 2021 will be able to return to celebrating together.

However, that would likely take the pandemic being declared over.

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