Many of the traditions connected to Houston Secondary School’s annual grad ceremony can’t take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic but the school, grads and their families are making sure this year’s grad will be a memorable occasion.
“We’ve put a lot of planning into this one,” says school secretary Ruby Kenzle of meetings where the ceremony of June 12 has been adapted to follow the guidance as to the physical distancing requirement of two metres/six feet and the maximum group size of 50 people.
The ceremony is a two-part affair — with a grad class of 34 students, the first part consists of each grad seated in the gym with the appropriate physical distancing.
Presiding will be a small group of dignitaries of four staffers, three speakers and a photographer. No parents will be present.
As with any other grad ceremonies, O Canada will be sung and the class valedictorian, Connor Kenzle, will address the grads and others. There will be a traditional Wit’suwet’en welcome, a message from a School District 54 trustee and a guest speech from retiring teacher Ted Beck.
“We have to be careful of the 50-person limit,” Kenzle said of the thinking that went into how many people would be present for this part of the ceremonies.
Once this first part is over, the grads will leave the gym and the seats wiped down.
With the cleaning finished, the second part gets underway with the grad class now divided into groups based on their TAG teacher, the teacher who has spent the most time with them over the years. Each grad is allowed to invite up to four parental or equivalent adult figures in their lives.
The first group will enter the gym and again seating will be conducted according to health guidance.
There won’t be any handshakes and diplomas will be placed on a table for a grad to pick up within the confines of needing to keep six feet apart.
One tradition, that of the grad’s TAG teacher ceremoniously moving the tassel on a grad’s cap from one side to the other, can’t happen.
“Normally at grad the TAG teacher would shake their grads hand, hand them their diploma envelope and move their tassel on their graduation cap. This year, we will still have the TAG teacher put the diploma envelope on a table but the no shaking hands and the grad will move their own tassel,” said Kenzle.
Scholarships and bursaries will also be presented.
Once the first group has finished, it will exit the gym, the seats wiped down and the exercise repeated with each grad group until all grads have picked up their diplomas.
Grads are welcome to take their cap and gown home for the weekend so family photos can be taken.
This will be Kenzle’s 15th grad she’s helped planned and it goes without saying it will be the most unusual.
“We’re working hard to give them a sense of closure, to recognize the completion of school but we have to do that and remain in the rules,” she said.
The event will be live-streamed so that friends and family members of the grads who cannot attend the ceremony because of group size limits will be able to enjoy, albeit at a distance, the occasion.
School District 54 assistant superintendent Matthew Monkman gave full credit to Houston Secondary staffers and others for adapting and adjusting to meet the health order guidance surrounding group gatherings.
“They’ve just done a great job to recognize the achievement of this year’s grads,” he said.
A longtime school district employee, Monkman is particularly taken how live-streaming technology will ensure this year’s ceremonies can be shared to a large on-line audience.
“Twenty-five years ago the technology was that of a slide show,” he said.
But the Houston ceremony will be absent a tradition begun by Monkman’s father who was also an educator.
It’s the passing of the light ceremony where a grad presents a lit candle to an incoming kindergarten student.
“It was always touching and memorable,” said Monkman.
If the school-based ceremony has also been adjusted because of COVID-19, it’s the same with activities planned by family members of the grads for June 13.
In normal times upwards of 400 people would gather in the gym decorated for the occasion to enjoy a full evening for a full evening of a catered dinner, hypnotist show and games past the midnight hour.
This year activities will start earlier as organizers are planning a group photo at Steelhead Park in the afternoon, says Danielle Shepherd of the safe grad organizing committee.
And local residents will have their chance to stand in their front yards and cheer the grads on because a parade through the town will follow.
The parade will end at the Willow Grove Golf & Country Club where, in an outdoor setting of picnic tables spaced appropriately apart, grads will enjoy a take-out supper.
“Since most money fund-raised has come from local businesses including our restaurants, we will have a take-out supper on 8-feet picnic tables also locally made to ensure a 2-metre distance. We’ve hired a local DJ, and a bungee run game the kids can use throughout the evening,” said Shepherd.
One tradition will carry on — that of a grad roast by school vice principal Dwayne Anderson.
Grads will receive a take-home bag of a yearbook, t-shirt, Houston Merchant gift card, other items, an individual prize and the chance to win grand prizes at the end of the night.
“We have an amazing group of parents who have shown what staying positive, and creative can look like, and I’m grateful we are able to allow our deserving and amazing kids the chance to celebrate all of their hard work and accomplishments these past 13 years,” Shepherd said.