For the second year in a row, planners of the annual ceremony for graduating Houston Secondary School students have had to adapt because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year’s grad was more difficult to plan than last year as the rules kept changing with COVID,” said school secretary Ruby Kenzle, a key organizer of the event which takes place June 11.
“All COVID restrictions will be followed as set by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and all grads will be sitting on the gym floor, six feet apart.”
The safety protocols are such this year that there will not be any parental or guardian involvement at the ceremony and a limited number of officials will be present.
But if not present in person, parents and guardians will play a role by decorating the school gym with helium-filled balloons.
It’s something parents and guardians have traditionally taken care of in past years because the gym was the focal point for activities planned by the parent/guardian safe grad committee.
“Even though Safe Grad will scale down the decorating as they won’t be hosting their event in the school gym the next day, I’m sure it will turn out fantastic and impress the grads,” said Kenzle.
Returning as master of ceremonies is French teacher Betty Lou Doyle who will guide the afternoon beginning with the presentation of the 24 graduating students.
O Canada will follow as will a Witsuwit’en welcome provided by Likhsilyu hereditary Chief Ron Mitchell.
School District 54 chair Jennifer Williams will provide a message from the school board.
Ted Beck, a teacher who spoke at last year’s grad ceremonies and is now retired, is returning to speak again. He’ll be introduced by grads Aaron Crocker and Dallas Brienen.
The valedictorian address will be given by grad Ton Tran.
Because handshakes are not permitted grads will pick up their diplomas from a table where they will be placed by vice-principal Dwayne Anderson.
“As last year, the diplomas/scholarship letters will be in one envelope per grad and Mr. Anderson will place this envelope on a separate table, step away and the grad will pick it up,” said Kenzle.”
I have attended other grad ceremonies for bigger schools over the years and I am very grateful for the HSS graduation ceremony,” she said.
“With a smaller graduating class, we are able to plan a more intimate ceremony and there seems to be a real camarderie or kinship between the grads.”
“I am always humbled at how fast five years flies by for the grads; one minute they are small timid or exuberant Grade 8s and in the blink of an eye, they are confident graduates ready to tackle the world,” said Kenzle.
The grad quote for this year is “Reach for the Stars”.
Although ceremony attendance is limited to grads and officials, the afternoon will be live-streamed.
School officials are asking that parents and relatives stay at home and not gather at the school the afternoon of the ceremony, saying the school must follow provincial health guidelines.
If June 11 is the official school-based grad ceremony day, June 12 is the day when parents and guardians of the safe grad committee roll out various events and activities.
The schedule begins at 4 p.m. when grads meet at Steelhead Park for official and other photos, says one of the committee members, Angelique Houlihan.
“And following that there’s a parade around town in their vehicles so people can see the grads,” she said.
Next up is a dinner in the banquet room of the Pleasant Valley for grads where the official photographer will be taking more photos.
“Because there isn’t a yearbook this year, these snaps will be become part of a book that every grad will receive,” said Houlihan.
The banquet will feature one long-standing tradition — a roast of each grad as presented by school vice principal Dwayne Anderson.
A special surprise then follows and the evening ends in the secondary school parking lot where grads will be presented with a gift — a camping chair that includes a table.
“On the back will be their last name, a grad hat and ‘2021’,” said Houlihan.
Grads will also receive cheques made up of monies collected and raised by the committee minus any grad-related expenses.