Ottawa students cautiously optimistic about in-person grad

·3 min read
Outdoor gatherings in Ontario remain limited to five people, but Premier Doug Ford suggested Wednesday an exception could be in the works to allow schools to hold graduation ceremonies and end-of-year celebrations. (Mark Felix/The Orange County Register/Associated Press - image credit)
Outdoor gatherings in Ontario remain limited to five people, but Premier Doug Ford suggested Wednesday an exception could be in the works to allow schools to hold graduation ceremonies and end-of-year celebrations. (Mark Felix/The Orange County Register/Associated Press - image credit)

Ottawa high school senior Mavec Haddow is excited about the prospect of an in-person graduation ceremony later this month, but he's also aware that — like many other things during this pandemic — it might not go as planned.

"Even if it's five people at a table and I can't talk to everybody, at least it's something. That would be pretty special," the Holy Trinity Catholic High School student said.

Haddow, who's finishing Grade 12 online, said while some classmates have been apprehensive about organizing a party, he wants to be able to look back on his high school graduation as a special time shared with friends — though it also seems the pandemic has taught him some hard lessons about high hopes.

It's really heartwarming to see so many students want to pitch in and play their part. - Joy Liu, Grade 12 student, OCDSB student trustee

"With all of the lockdown extensions that we've seen, I would not be surprised at all if we get absolutely nothing," he said.

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced schools in the province would remain closed until September, but promised his government is working with school boards to hold outdoor, in-person graduation and end-of-year ceremonies.

Joy Liu, a student trustee with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), will be graduating from Colonel By Secondary School this year.

She said the announcement has generated a lot of excitement among students who'd resigned themselves to a virtual ceremony.

"People really want to contribute, and all the students understand that it is a really big burden on staff to try to get this thing together so soon," Liu said. "It's really heartwarming to see so many students want to pitch in and play their part as well."

Liu said she's hoping it will be an opportunity to see her teachers and classmates together again, even if they're forced to wear masks and keep their distance from one another.

School boards caught off guard

Both of Ottawa's English-language school boards said they were "surprised" by the premier's announcement regarding grad ceremonies.

Thomas D'Amico, director of education for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, said he saw the announcement as "aspirational," and said the board will follow local public health and ministry guidelines.

Outdoor gatherings of people who don't live in the same household are currently limited to five in Ontario.

"As of today, a gathering of 200 to 300 students outdoors on a field is not possible," D'Amico pointed out.

"[It] takes a great deal of logistical planning for our 15 high schools. It's weather dependent, and anyone that's worked on an outdoor wedding knows it doesn't just come together in a couple of days."

Instead, D'Amico said the board is looking to "enhance" the virtual graduation ceremonies it planned last year, including diploma presentations.

In a statement Wednesday, the OCDSB said staff will continue to support students and plan end-of-year activities, but didn't go into detail about what those might include. The board declined CBC's request for an interview Thursday.

Ottawa Public Health said it's working with local boards to consider how such events could proceed while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

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