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After the coronavirus pandemic dashed hopes of graduation ceremonies and proms, 2020 graduates have been getting creative with celebrations

Senior students of Centennial Collegiate Vocation Institute drove their cars or were dropped off by parents to celebrate four years of school together in the parking lot of Calvary Baptist Church in Guelph, Ont.Sarah Mortimer/The Globe and Mail

High school is full of dashed expectations – unrequited crushes, failed tests, meticulously planned outfits that just don’t land. But for the class of 2020, the disappointments have been grander in scale. This year, a pandemic arrived at their doorsteps. Just as they were planning grad trips, buying prom dresses and submitting college applications, seniors across Canada were told their proms and grad ceremonies would be cancelled or delayed. But while a traditional celebration might not be in the cards, high school grads are reinventing traditions and finding new ways to mark their milestones.

Michael Salib, 18

St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School, Mississauga

Event: Student Life Network’s cross-Canada virtual prom

Plans for fall: Attending university for architecture

Sarah Mortimer/The Globe and Mail

I was a member with the Student Life Network from the beginning of Grade 12 because it has amazing tools and opportunities. A few weeks ago, they were trying to put this virtual cross-Canada prom on and looking for people for the prom committee. At first, I was really sad that a traditional prom couldn’t take place. In normal life, each school has its own graduation at its own place. Now we’re kind of all in our homes and that’s forced us to connect on a deeper level and connect across the world. Literally I could be talking to somebody from Colombia years from now and say, “Class of 2020?” and they’d say, “How was it in Canada? Did you guys do anything?” It’s kind of a universal thing.

Andrea Sergeant, 18

Westview Centennial Secondary School, Toronto

Event: Virtual grad celebration

Plans for fall: Studying psychology at York University

Westview Centennial Secondary School grad Andrea Sergeant gathered with her parents to attend a small online celebration with teachers and students in her front yard last week. The event included games, most likely to awards and a valedictorian announcement. Andrea won the 'most likely to become an Olympic athlete' award.Sarah Mortimer/The Globe and Mail

Our plan for the celebration is that it would take place for about one hour on Zoom. We plan to create some games and do some challenges, and those who participate will receive prizes. We also plan to break into separate groups for about 15 minutes, giving everyone a chance to speak with their friends. COVID-19 has made some things difficult. It is different with the distance learning and stuff. But I’ve also been watching the growing protest movements such as Black Lives Matter. I’m happy to see that our voices are being heard and action is taking place. People are realizing the injustices within systems. Like we’ve just begun and there’s so much more to go and push for.

Andrea Sergeant poses for an unofficial graduation photo in front of her school. After turning around her academic scores, Sergeant says that one of the things she looked forward to most before COVID-19 was having a professional graduate photo taken to hang on her school's wall.Sarah Mortimer/The Globe and Mail

Bailey Dunbar, 19

Next Steps Senior High, Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.

Event: Prom Project Alberta’s virtual grad celebration

Plans for fall: Taking a year to save money by working as a crane operator

On Saturday, June 13, Bailey Dunbar attended Prom Project Alberta's Virtual Graduation – a Canada-wide celebration for graduating teens, from her bedroom in Fort Saskatchewan.Bailey Dunbar

I’m going to Prom Project Alberta, which is an online graduation. I’ll wear a cap online. Someone reached out to me from the organization to give a speech. I think it’s because I help run a non-profit with my family. My identical twin died of suicide in Grade 6. She struggled with depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, and was being bullied since Grade 1. My family started a non-profit called Morgan’s Mission in her memory to raise funds for mental-health organizations, suicide prevention and to promote the consequences of bullying. My sister and I used to talk about prom. She was really looking forward to it because we both hated school. I feel connected to her though. I’ll be thinking about her.

Sarah Ragbir, 17

Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute, Guelph, Ont.

Event: Parking-lot prom

Plans for fall: Attending university for nursing

Before COVID-19, Sarah Ragbir and her friends were excited to get together and do their makeup for an enchanted forest themed prom at University of Guelph. Ragbir says a parking lot prom might not be the same, but it's better than Zoom.Sarah Mortimer/The Globe and Mail

Some friends and I have decided to get dressed up and sit in a parking lot in cars two spaces apart. It’s definitely not the same, but we wanted to do something in person. A Zoom call didn’t feel the same. During the pandemic, everyone in my family has still been working. I work at a grocery store. My mom is a nurse. My sister works at the Starbucks and my dad works in trucks. So basically we’re just working a lot. If I could tell the next graduating class anything, I would tell them not to take anything for granted. The semesters go by quickly. Dress up on spirit days and go to football games, and definitely join and try out for as many things as possible.

High school seniors Jasmine Burke, Sarah Ragbir, Daniella Casaretto, Kadyn Kapitain and Abby Mason dance to the Backstreet Boys in the parking lot of Calvary Baptist Church.Sarah Mortimer/The Globe and Mail

Five pairs of prom shoes from Centennial Collegiate Vocation Institute seniors Sarah Ragbir, Jasmine Burke, Abby Mason, Kadyn Kapitain and Daniella Casaretto piled up before a parking lot dance break.Sarah Mortimer/The Globe and Mail

Jon Gill, 17

Howe Sound Secondary School, Squamish, B.C.

Event: Filmed and streamed grad

Plans for fall: Going to university

The high school graduation ceremony of Jon Gill from Howe Sound Secondary School in B.C., in June, 2020.John Gill

We have a pretty small community and a lot of international students. Initially, it was disappointing to know that graduation was not going to be able to take place the way we had expected. Especially as a smaller class that has grown up together, it was upsetting to think that we were not going to be able to celebrate the end of our journey all together. We are lucky to have such an enthusiastic school with staff and administration that has worked very hard to provide us with the opportunity to still walk across the stage, receive our diplomas and celebrate together, even though we’ll be physically distanced. The commencement ceremony will be spread out over five nights, with 40 students at each.

Dean McCarthy, 18

Holy Heart of Mary High School, St John’s

Event: Student Life Network’s cross-Canada virtual prom

Plans for fall: Studying engineering at UBC or Memorial University

Dean McCarthy wore a sweatshirt to Student Life Network's Virtual Prom is On party, but suits up here for a virtual choir performance for grads and other students, at Holy Heart of Mary High School in St John’s, Newfoundland.Dean McCarthy

The hardest part about going into quarantine was the isolation from my friends. In particular, not being with my choir was extremely hard as that was my escape from all my hardships. When I was singing with my friends, I felt no other troubles and now I can’t do that anymore. I think my generation, especially the class of 2020, is having to face one of the most difficult challenges right now in terms of education. Changing to a digital format of learning is something that is going to take a while to get used to. To the class of 2020, I will say, time and time again, don’t suffer through this alone. We need to be physical distancing but not necessarily social distancing.

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