It goes without saying that this past school year has been one that has been deeply challenging on so many levels. There were many new rules and protocols, along with transitions between in-person learning and online schooling. So when Holy Redeemer held their Graduation on May 29th, one could easily say these students have overcome so many challenges to get here that it made the whole celebration all the more sweeter.
“These students have had everything thrown at them over the last year,” says Principal Betty Churchill referring to the countless COVID protocols and changes, combined with the regular stress of being a student in grade 12. “Each of them should be tremendously proud at how they have persevered over the last year to get to this point. I know I’m proud of them and so is our entire school community.”
With the current provincial restrictions in place, many of the usual Graduation functions had to be dramatically changed or cancelled. “We set the date for May 29th and no matter what the current conditions would be at that time, we were committed to celebrating our Grads that day,” says Churchill. With this in mind, the Grad was changed to have some virtual components and some in-person components.
The first virtual component came from the creation by Teacher Paul Tobin who worked for months ahead of time collecting video footage to put together in an hour long presentation. The video included many of the aspects you would usually find at the annual Graduation Ceremony such as speeches from Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara, Yellowhead Member of Parliament Gerald Soroka, and Living Waters Trustee Gemma Christie, along with the Valedictorian Address from grade 12 student Jaci Knight, and the students ‘walking across the stage” to accept their diplomas. Intertwined in the video was a mixture of music and montages that will bring everyone to tears as they watch these young men and women graduate.
“As I’m sure many of us students can say we never could have even begun guessing how our years at HRH would progress,” says Knight during her Valedictorian Address. “And although it has been a pretty crazy road for many, if not all of us, our time in high school was an amazing and important stepping stone in our lives.” Knight also remarked on the many memories she has with friends and teachers, and how she and so many others have grown so much into who they are today because of their time at HRH.
The next virtual display was made by HRH Technology Facilitator Cheryl Fogarty who developed the Liturgy led by Father Thomas and liturgical readings from many of the Grads. Within the video, there was a special moment to recognize Shandy Reichenbacher, a fellow student who tragically passed away of cancer while this class was in grade 6 at Vanier in 2015. “Memories of Shandy bring to mind thoughts of kindness, acceptance, patience, strength, and faith,” says graduating student Mekha George. “Her legacy speaks volumes about the wonderful individual she truly was and she will live on in the hearts of all who knew her.” Graduating student Jayna Fedorak also shared a special memory of Shandy when they were young collecting dandelions and grass at recess to make beautiful bouquets in the schoolyard. “The image that stayed so clear in my mind was Shandy, dandelion tucked behind her ear, with her big blue eyes and her beautiful smile looking at me,” she says. “When I think of this day, I am filled with the feeling of pure love, joy, freedom and spirit, and I am reminded of why that day and every day spent with Shandy were so special.” Graduating student Brooke Grycak also had fond memories of Shandy including Brooke’s first day of school at Vanier where she was new student, but all that changed when Shandy said ‘hello’ to her. She also recalled Shandy’s 11th birthday party. “Although Shandy was already very sick at the time and was unable to move very much our friends had a wonderful time sharing spooky stories and playing games as we slept in the driveway in her family’s camper.” In addition to their wonderful tribute, the Grad Class will be making a donation to Shandy’s Dream for a Cure that supports brain cancer research.
The live portions of the Grad were equally as important. On May 26th, the school organized a group photo and the annual Cap Toss on the field behind the school.
On May 27th, the Grad Class organized a school-wide formal day that would see the entire school dress up, but most importantly the Grads would have an opportunity to wear their suits and grad gowns. The Grad Class then paraded through the hallway as a part of their Grand March while the entire school body clapped and cheered.
Saturday, May 29th, was the official Graduation Day. Keeping the provincial protocols in mind, the school organized a special “drive through Grad”. Families would pull into the parking lot where the student would step out and accept their diploma from Mrs. Churchill. “Despite this being very different from our traditional Grad, it did not stop each and every one of our Grads from smiling from ear to ear,” says Churchill, who added that they have a right to be happy. “This is a momentous day, no matter what the circumstances. They have worked so hard and deserve their moment to be recognized.”
With the 2021 Graduation Celebration now over, the Grad class turns their attention to the future. And no matter what each Grad chooses to do, you can bet that if they can graduate in the middle of a pandemic, then they can achieve just about anything in their future.
To watch the videos or see more photos from the Graduation Celebration, go to holyredeemerhigh.ca.