Aylmer’s high schools send off grads with social distancing ceremonies
Despite a third of the school year taken over by COVID-19, secondary five high school students in Aylmer went back to their stomping grounds last week to celebrate their long-awaited graduation. On June 23, l’École secondaire Grande-Rivière (ESGR) reopened its doors, inviting graduates to pick up their diplomas, take official pictures on the big stage and give their teachers a final farewell before moving to bigger, better things. Taking place from 9 am to 3 pm, the event was organized on an appointment basis because of limits on the number of people at gatherings imposed by COVID-19.
According to the event’s coordinator Marie-Claude Labelle, ESGR’s 2020 graduating class included 302 students and, while it wasn’t as festive as in the past, it had all the same level of importance for those involved. Labelle said the purpose of the event, on top of giving the kids a proper send-off, was to get a chance to reconnect with them one last time and to congratulate them in person on such a significant accomplishment in their respective lives. “It allows them to come back to the school where they’ve all made so many memories,” Labelle said.
With several teachers welcoming the students with large signs at the school’s main entrance, the event featured a red carpet where students were applauded. The graduates signed an artistic mural of different students’ art projects that had been put together by two art teachers. Upon leaving the building, students were gifted with commemorative keychains, meant metaphorically as a key to the future, Labelle said. On June 25, a little more than a dozen ESGR staff members gathered at the school once again to plant a Sugar Maple tree in memory of the grads, alongside a commemorative plaque celebrating their accomplishments.
Before inviting each attendee to put a shovelful of dirt into the hole as a symbolic gesture, one of the event’s organizers, Stéphane Labrecque, inserted a time capsule consisting of a plastic jug containing messages written by the students. Each contributing $600 to the initiative, Councillors Audrey Bureau and Gilles Chagnon were also in attendance to congratulate the students on their graduation.
D’Arcy McGee hosted its graduation ceremony on June 22, celebrating the accomplishment of 197 students in somewhat of a drive-thru experience due to COVID-19. With many students arriving at the school in decorated cars or limousines, the event still had the makings of a fun party, despite not being able to host large groups, according to Principal Tara Laine. “We had some beautifully decorated vehicles,” Laine said. “It was awesome.” Laine explained that the event was a way to bring closure to what has been a truly bizarre year for the graduates, while keeping everyone as safe as possible. “It was very successful and a lot of fun,” Laine said. “It was very different than a traditional graduation ceremony. But the energy and enthusiasm was incredible and we know that they will remember it for the rest of their lives.”
Also appointment-based, the event took place in the school’s parking lot from 9 am to the early afternoon. Inviting around 25 students per hour, the lot delimitated with cones directed students to where to get their pictures taken (at six feet apart), pick up their diplomas and, finally, thank their teachers for all their support. Teachers wore protective gear throughout the event, notably masks and gloves, Laine said.