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Loic Belair, dances in his bubble at the end of year celebration themed 'Party bubbles' for graduates at Collège Laval, a private French-language high school in Laval, Quebec, June 11, 2021.

No prom here.

Collège Laval, one of the largest private French-language high schools in Quebec, hosted a year-end celebration for more than 400 graduating students that maintained all of the province’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Proms were initially cancelled for the second year in a row until Quebec’s Public Health Director Horacio Arruda announced last week that proms with no more than 250 people under a tent could proceed as of July 8.

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That news came too late for Collège Laval to have a prom. But the party did go on, with verve, for seniors at the school in Laval, Que., just north of Montreal. The event on June 11 was themed “Bulles en fête,” loosely translated as “Party bubbles.” Students came decked out in fancy full-length gowns and sharp bow ties, but no fashion statement could outshine their joy.

Students take photos in a photo booth during the graduates' celebration themed 'Party bubbles.'

The school had set up a committee in February to work out a plan that would let the graduates have a year-end event, even during a pandemic. They would keep the students in their class bubbles, so they could still celebrate together – but separately. That meant setting up a dozen tents in the school’s parking lot for 12 groups of students.

Taking place on a professional development day and during school hours, the event followed Quebec’s COVID-19 rules, with physical distancing, hand sanitizer, class bubbles. The students wore masks in hallways and other communal areas but were allowed to remove them within their group. Teachers, however, had their masks and eye protection on throughout the whole day.

With the large school building empty of all other students, the graduates gathered in their classrooms to watch a souvenir video of their final year, which was shown simultaneously to all of them. Then they moved to 12 larger spaces indoors where the students mingled in their bubbles.

They were given their yearbooks, sparkling non-alcoholic cider, letters from their parents and letters they wrote to their future selves, when they were in first year of high school. They also got yellow gift backpacks to carry it all, and pens to write in each others’ yearbooks and compose thank-you cards to favourite teachers or to those who inspired them. Photo booths were set up in each room and lots of selfies were taken as well.

Students use the wall to write thank-you cards.

For the finale, they walked out from different doors, in all their finery, heading to their numbered tents. They waved to friends as they passed by other bubbles; they phoned each other and greeted those in the tents next to theirs. When the music began, they danced, and danced and danced. All 12 tents cheered as teachers walked by and danced in front of them. They cheered as the DJ made way for a band. They just wanted to celebrate.

Students in different bubbles greet each other while maintaining physical distancing.

Students react as teachers dance past them at their year-end party.

It was like an episode of Glee and morphed into a dance battle between tents across the square in the middle of the set-up. Students kept out-performing each other. First singly, then in twos, until finally the whole group would dance to the music and cheer each other on.

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Audrey Tougas, one of the graduates, said the best part of the event was staying with her classmates. “We have formed a kind of family and I’m just happy to spend more time with them.”

According to the school, the event was a collective effort and everyone involved felt it was important to give the students closure – as well as a once-in-a-lifetime memory.

Just don’t call it a prom.

Students dance in their bubbles to celebrate the end of the year.

Students walk to their tent to continue the year-end celebration.

Tents were set up in the school parking lot for the 12 class bubbles.

Audrey Tougas dances in her bubble at the end-of year celebration.

Students react as a teacher dances in front of their bubble.

Students lean over barriers to talk to classmates who are outside their class bubble.

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