Pandemic cancels proms and other activities for New Brunswick's class of 2021

·6 min read
High school graduation, a fundamental coming-of-age experience for many teenagers, is going to look different again this year.
High school graduation, a fundamental coming-of-age experience for many teenagers, is going to look different again this year.

(Shutterstock - image credit)

For the second year in a row, COVID has cancelled proms in the province.

Most school districts have already notified parents and students that proms, safe grads, and awards ceremonies are all cancelled for this year.

Mehkya Blanch, a Grade 12 student at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton, was disappointed but not surprised when she got the message from the school district on Friday.

"It was a bit disappointing when it did get officially announced, but … we were expecting this outcome just because we've seen it happen to a few other schools around us and in Canada already."

But expecting the news doesn't help lessen the disappointment for the 17-year-old. She said it's a rite of passage that students look forward to "ever since you heard about it as a kid."

"A lot of us have known each other ever since we were little, and just being able to celebrate that all together is going to be taken away from us. And it really is disappointing."

Like a lot of girls, Mehkya Blanch, a Grade 12 student at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton, has been looking forward to prom since she was a little girl.
Like a lot of girls, Mehkya Blanch, a Grade 12 student at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton, has been looking forward to prom since she was a little girl.

She said it's especially meaningful for the class of 2021, which spent its entire Grade 12 year in a pandemic, with distance education, almost no sports or extracurricular activities, and no grad class events.

"We have a lot of stuff going on on top of just missing out on prom — with online classes and having sports and other events cancelled," said Blanch. "So it really is a stressful time for a lot of students. And even the smaller things are going to impact us a lot more than they usually would, like, a year ago."

Although traditional graduation ceremonies won't be held, Anglophone South superintendent Zoë Watson said the district wants "to ensure students and families are properly recognized and celebrated during this important milestone."

In a letter sent to Grade 12 families, Watson said, "Please note that graduations will be scheduled in the month of June 2021 and will abide by all NB Public Health and Public Safety requirements in effect at that time."

Graduations will not be postponed or delayed in hopes of reaching a less restrictive recovery phase for the province, said Watson.

While noting that June is still months away, Watson said it was important to notify parents now.

We didn't get to play sports. And coming from a small town, we take a lot of pride in that. - Justin Smith

"Given that we are close to March, and plans need to be put in place for the celebration of graduates, we felt it was important to communicate with families," Watson said in a statement emailed to CBC.

To parents, she wrote, "I know this is disappointing for everyone and unfortunately we do not know what June will bring in our province. Please remember that last year, each high school worked hard to come up with innovative and creative ways to carry out their end-of-year events, either virtually, physically distanced with small groups, or both. "

She said the feedback from last year's modified events "was very positive."

Anglophone East superintendent Gregg Ingersoll said the district is still planning to have graduation ceremonies in June.

"The school district fully supports our high schools in their safe planning of the important milestone that is the graduation ceremony," Ingersoll wrote in a message sent to parents on Friday.

Graduation plans will be reviewed and approved by the director of schools prior to the ceremony, he said.

Class of 2021 sports

Francophone districts announced earlier that proms would be cancelled.

Justin Smith, a Grade 12 student at Tantramar Regional High School in Sackville, is sympathetic to his classmates who are mourning the loss of prom 2021, but for him, that pales in comparison to losing Grade 12 sports.

Most were cancelled and those that were played had big changes. His beloved football, for example, was turned into flag football, which doesn't use offensive linemen like him.

Justin Smith, a Grade 12 student at Tantramar Regional High School in Sackville and No. 64 in this photo, is more disappointed about not being able to play football than not having a prom.
Justin Smith, a Grade 12 student at Tantramar Regional High School in Sackville and No. 64 in this photo, is more disappointed about not being able to play football than not having a prom.

"So that's been the biggest thing — we didn't get to play sports. And coming from a small town, we take a lot of pride in that."

He said many athletes look forward to their final year of high school, when they often dominate their sports.

"When you're from a small town, it's your way of leaving your legacy behind athletically," said Smith.

Pandemic prom alternatives

Blanch said she and her circle of friends are hoping that public health protocols will allow them to hold some sort of commemoration — and provide them an opportunity wear their already-purchased prom dresses.

Blanch has had her dress since October.

She and her friends are talking about organizing an outdoor event or renting a small venue that could accommodate the number of people allowed under public health guidelines that are in place at the time.

At the very least, Blanch hopes she and her friends can manage to get dolled up, pose for photos with their dates and friends and enjoy some sort of scaled down get-together.

But she worries about the teens who may get left out of such invitation-only events.

"For the kids who don't have the bigger friend groups, or maybe just don't have that many friends at all, their prom experiences might not even happen at all."

Anna Kaye Redmond is also a Grade 12 student at Bernice MacNaughton High School.

Anna Kaye Redmond, a Grade 12 student at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton, plans to wear the prom dress she bought — even if it's just at small get-together in someone's backyard.
Anna Kaye Redmond, a Grade 12 student at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton, plans to wear the prom dress she bought — even if it's just at small get-together in someone's backyard.

Although she's looking forward to getting together and celebrating with friends — and getting a chance to wear the dress she's had for months — it's not going to be the prom she's dreamed of for years.

But she's determined to make the most out of whatever public health rules allow.

"I feel like it's going to be a fun experience because it's going to be with my friend group. It's going to be the people that I love … It's just going to be a different atmosphere, I guess."

Dress sales

The operations manager at Moncton's Primrose Lane Bridal said prom dress sales for the class of 2021 were off to a quick start in the fall

Dan Mathews said sales usually don't to pick up until late fall, but last year, sales took off in early September and were "flat out until December."

Sales have fallen off since schools announced there won't be proms, but overall, sales are comparable to non-COVID years, said Mathews.

And despite the cancelled proms, he's only received one call to inquire about returning a dress.

Mathews said he spoke with about 80 per cent of customers while they were buying, and most were aware of the possibility of proms being cancelled. He said parents and students alike were determined to find a reason to dress up, wear the dress "and get together as long as the bubble's right."

"That was the consensus," he said. "That they would make the most of it."