Graduation celebrations and ceremonies will look a lot different this year due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. (Observer File Photo)

Quesnel grad celebrations and ceremonies affected by pandemic

A Grad Drive By event has been scheduled for June 20 for the community to celebrate graduates

Ceremonies and celebrations for students graduating this year in Quesnel will be far from normal due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a typical year, graduates from Correlieu Secondary School, the McNaughton Centre and Quesnel Distributed Learning are treated to a weekend of celebrations in their honour as the community recognizes their achievement. Events typically include a formal cap and gown ceremony held in the West Fraser Centre on a Friday evening in June where graduates receive their diploma on stage, speeches are made and community dignitaries present awards. Then on Saturday evening a promenade and ball is held in Arena 2 where students get dressed to the nines and show off their styles to parents and community members in attendance, followed by an evening of music and dancing, games and food as the graduates their dates and escorts celebrate until midnight.

The weekend celebration has served as a rite of passage for many over the years and the Quesnel community has always shown outstanding support for the events says Correlieu Secondary School principal Dennis Hawkins-Bogle.

“It’s a huge to-do and the community just really supports us and helps us with prizes with food, with scholarship money, it’s really amazing how the community supports our graduates in Quesnel.” said Hawkins-Bogle.

This year however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health and safety restrictions around group events, organizers of the typical graduation ceremonies and celebrations have had to adapt.

“This year we have to operate under the restrictions that have been given to us by the medical health officer, so we can’t host a gathering of over 50 people, so what we are doing is putting on a series of mini ceremonies,” said Hawkins-Bogle.

Eleven small ceremonies will be held in the gymnasium at Correlieu between June 22-24 where 15 students at a time, each of whom will be allowed to bring two guests, will be presented with their diploma by Hawkins-Bogle. The ceremonies and speeches will be videotaped and made available to graduates in July.

In lieu of the typical dry grad celebrations, event organizers have come up with an inventive way for the community to celebrate and support this years graduates.

“We are planning what we are calling a Grad Drive By,” said Hawkins-Bogle. “So the graduates will get all dressed up and they will line the bus lanes at various schools and school district properties in Quesnel – the public can drive by super slowly, they can hand the graduates flowers or cards or anything like that, they can take pictures from their car they just can’t get out of their car otherwise we are exceeding our capacity.”

The Grad Drive By will see no more than 50 students at an individual school district property to insure proper social distancing and will take place on June 20 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

A map of exactly which students will be at specific school district properties will be made available to family members as plans are finalized.

Hawkins-Bogle says that he feels there was understandably some anxiety and confusion from students and the community as it became clear that this years graduation ceremonies and celebrations would have to be altered from what is customary but as time has gone on students have been expressing their excitement from the event.

“When we started to talk about grad which would have been at the end of March and the start of April, people were quite anxious that it looked like a traditional grad wasn’t happening and it looked like all of the suggestions being put forward were not being received well, so there was quite a bit of anxiety, said Hawkins-Bogle. “Now, I would say within the last two or three weeks – people are really excited about grad, lots of parents and kids I’ve talked in the last couple of weeks are looking forward to grad, they are excited about grad. They’re not happy that it’s not the big deal but they are happy that they’re getting a grad.”

Hawkins-Bogle says that he wishes more could be done for the 2020 graduates but that he wants them to know that the whole community is behind them and appreciates and applauds their achievement.

“The message I would like to give to the graduating students is that they deserve more than we are able to give them right now but under the circumstances this is the best we have to offer and I hope that they can understand the conditions we are under and that we really do want to celebrate them for their successes,” said Hawkins-Bogle.

READ MORE: Virtual proms, online grad ceremonies: Teen milestones hit hard by COVID pandemic

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