Aside from fear, face masks and physical distancing, West Shore high school principals hope the class of 2020 can see the hope, resilience and unity that mark their graduating year.
“I hope our kids look back on this and realize the strength and power of community and realize that we’re all in it together,” said Mike Huck, principal of Royal Bay Secondary School. “That everybody has a role to play in making our world healthier.”
The Colwood high school – like schools across the region – suspended in-class teaching in March when the COVID-19 virus was declared a global pandemic. For weeks, education hung in the cross hairs of an unprecedented crisis, as school districts scrambled to move courses online and prevent students from falling behind.
It will surely be a year that everyone remembers, but for students who mark their graduation with a live-streamed ceremony and a physically-distanced celebration, it will be an indelible part of their personal history too.
“The real lesson our kids have learned is that life is not always easy – there’s going to be obstacles, there’s going to be challenges and disappointments – but the character of a person is how you deal with that disappointment and really triumph over that and carry on,” Huck said. “They will never forget they were the class of 2020, and that will tie them together forever.”
As the class of 2020 heads into a world where post-secondary courses are offered online only and going to the grocery store or a restaurant requires a face mask and a customer limit, the challenges of their graduating year are likely to endure.
Jim Lamond, principal of Belmont Secondary School, doesn’t mince words when it comes to watching the graduates navigate a COVID-19 world, particularly at a time that should be joyful and celebratory.
“To be honest, it’s been tough. This year, undoubtedly, has been difficult for everybody across the globe,” Lamond said. “But I think it’s really impacted our graduates. It’s always a special time in a young person’s life.”
Both secondary schools have had to forfeit traditional graduation proceedings in the wake of the pandemic, with online events replacing dry grads, carnivals and ceremonies. A COVID-19 world is not friendly to the pivotal milestone moment where hundreds of eager young people in cap and gown walk the stage, a packed audience of friends and family cheering them on.
Instead, students have been organized into small groups for miniature, live-streamed ceremonies.
“My staff and myself all feel the same way – we wish it was different,” Lamond said. “However we’re so very fortunate and our grads have been incredibly resilient and for the most part, super optimistic and positive, knowing that we’re making the best of what we can.”
Lamond, like Huck, hopes the experience will be a strengthening one for grads. The economic, health and social impacts of the pandemic are widespread, but so are the paper hearts decorating windows; the volunteers providing meals to people living outside; the shoppers prioritizing local stores and the drive or bike-by birthday celebrations, where honks and signs ring out a new sense of community.
“From historical perspectives, times like these can often bring people together,” Lamond said. “I imagine when our grads host their 10 year reunion … they’ll look back on this and share some very fond memories.
“I hope they all know that we’re very, very proud of them and if we could have it any other way we would do our very best to,” Lamond added. “But we wish them all the best in the next chapter of their lives.”
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