PHOTO: JANE CARMONA/UNSPLASH

With the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt during the current graduation season, many schools, parents and students have learned from the previous year and adapted this milestone in life to adhere to public health restrictions.

Gathering restrictions, masks and social distancing have caused this milestone to be redesigned.

Mark Berger, the principal at Calgary Catholic’s St. Francis High School in the city’s northwest, says that after the feedback from last year’s pandemic graduation, it was almost a no-brainer to do a drive-thru ceremony for this year. 

“We had older siblings saying, ‘My god, I wish we could have graduated like this,’” says Berger. 

The school worked with its council to weigh options, deciding even though a drive-thru graduation would take longer, it provided the school with flexibility in regards to changing public health restrictions.   

“We wanted to put that effort in over three days,” says Berger. “We didn’t want our grads to be disadvantaged in any way.” 

St. Francis allowed students to sign up for the day they prefer in an effort to have students graduate with their friends. 

Alberta’s fluctuating restrictions have affected schools over the past year, impacting both the students’ learning and their overall high school experience. 

“They’ve been tossed out, missed out, locked out of dressing rooms. They’ve been locked out of theaters, gyms,” says Berger. “It’s just these students have missed out on so many key aspects that really balances their high school experience.”

PHOTO: ZACHARY OLSON/UNSPLASH

Cooper Fowler and Valeriya Mynak, two students graduating from the Calgary Board of Education’s Dr. E.P. Scarlett High School, say the past year has been difficult and confusing. 

“This year has been a very big rollercoaster just because everyone went into Grade 12 thinking, ‘Oh maybe it’ll be better this year. We’ll actually have a good year together’ and then as soon as the first lockdown happened in December, everyone just lost all the motivation and any will to do anything,” says Mynak. 

This year, Dr. E.P. Scarlett will be live streaming their graduation for friends and family. Students will be separated into six smaller groups based on last name and walk the stage in their grouping over the course of two days. 

Mynak, the first in her family to graduate from a Canadian high school, says although her parents understand why they can not be there, it is still saddening.

“I feel bad for them. They went through all this trouble not to watch me walk the stage in person,” she says. 

Not only will family be missing out on watching students graduate in person but so too will other students, their friends. 

“It definitely hurts. That was one part that I was looking forward to — hang[ing] out with my buddies for the whole day,” says Fowler. 

Though schools were prepared and planned for different situations, due to changing restrictions many aspects could not be finalized till later into spring. 

Berger says that his students’ morale is subdued and they do not seem as excited as previous graduating classes — something both Fowler and Mynak have also felt. 

“I get the whole walking the stage, and everyone likes to do it. You know our parents always say it’s such a big moment, but with how the school year has been, I dont think it’s very useful,” says Fowler.

Meanwhile, Berger says his students are just looking forward to getting out into the world. Adding that though this graduating class has been through a lot, they still have so much to offer the world.

“I think there [are] a lot of silver linings in what they have been through. They’ve had to adapt, they’ve had to make changes on the fly, be independent learners, they’ve made a lot of sacrifices,” he says. “I feel like in some ways they are more resilient and that they recognize that they have these traits, these skills to go forward and you know, be successful in our world, to become the leaders of tomorrow.”