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Proms from coast to coast

The Globe and Mail visited coming-of-age celebrations in five corners of the country

Photographs and reporting from: Darren Calabrese Halifax | Melissa Tait Port Hope and Opaskwayak Cree Nation | Todd Korol Calgary | Jackie Dives Vancouver
Published June 27, 2018

In Calgary, Syrian refugee Sara Al Aqal sat at a graduation banquet during Ramadan, two years after arriving in Canada. At the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba, Desirae Constant’s parents, brothers, uncles, aunts and cousins accompanied her to her grad supper at the local arena. And in Port Hope, Ont., dozens of teens arrived in vintage cars, an ATV and even a boat on a trailer to celebrate their final year of high school.

These are just some of the scenes that have played out over the last few weeks across the country, as high-school graduates – most of them 17 or 18 – celebrated the end of their adolescence and marked their first steps into adulthood.

“It’s kind of like a milestone of all the four years leading up to this very moment,” one said.

Some have only a few months before they go back to school, entering college or university programs. Others will work or take a year off.

The Globe and Mail visited this coming-of-age ritual – grad night to some, prom to others – and spoke with students about their thoughts and hopes for the night, and the future.

The days all started with preening and posing. Then came the evening of stunning gowns and suits. It was a celebration of achievements and it was an evening the Class of 2018 said they would always remember.

– Caroline Alphonso

Auburn Drive High School

Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia

Student population: 763 | Grad class population: 244 | Prom theme: Glitz and Glamour

Tyrece Paris, 18, played point guard for the Auburn Eagles, his school’s varsity basketball team, which won the provincial championship this year.

Tyrece Paris poses in the Halifax Public Gardens before prom on June 24.

What does prom mean to you?

It’s kind of the last group gathering and occasion that you get to spend with the people you’ve spent the last three years of your life with. Kind of like the last moment that you might see some of these people ever again in your life. And, it’s just something you want to cherish, that you want to remember and you want to mean something.

Tyrece checks himself in the mirror while getting ready at his friend Adre Simmonds's house before leaving to pick up their dates in North Preston, N.S.

What will you miss about high school?

The thing I’ll miss most is waking up every day and seeing the people that I enjoy spending time with – going there to be with my friends.

Tyrece and his date Malai Atkinson pause for a moment after arriving for Auburn Drive High School's prom in Dartmouth.
Students from Auburn Drive High School seen in silhouette at prom.
Tyrece and Malai pose for pre-prom photos in the Halifax Public Gardens.

What are you doing next year?

I’m going to St. F.X. [Nova Scotia’s St. Francis Xavier University] to pursue a bachelor of kinesiology and possibly take some business electives and just go from there. Maybe follow it with physiotherapy or something. It’s what I plan to do, but I might change it up. I’m not 100 per cent sure yet.

Tyrece on the dance floor.
Auburn Drive High School serves students from Grades 10 to 12

Port Hope High School

Port Hope, Ontario

Student population: 300 | Grad class population: 81 | Prom theme: Starry Night

Hannah Larsen, 18, was president of her high school’s student council and also served on the prom committee organizing an event that included the ‘drive-up,’ where students arrived in various modes of transportation, including limos, tractors and vintage cars.

Hannah Larsen in her bedroom, getting ready for prom.

What does prom mean to you?

It’s kind of like a milestone of all the four years leading up to this very moment … I want to see everyone dressed up, so that’s really exciting, but mostly just spending time with my friends one last time, kind of before we all go off and graduate and do separate things.

Hannah has her hair styled at Nirvana Hair Salon in downtown Port Hope midday before the prom.

What will you miss about high school?

I think I’ll actually miss the teachers the most. Because being in a small town and small school, your teachers really get to interact with you, and get to know you, so I’ve known all these teachers since Grade 9, some of them since Grade 7 or 8. The support you get from them is just insane. Like more than you’d get in a city or bigger school. I’ll miss them.

As the students enter the Port Hope High School prom they take part in the tradition of the ‘drive-up.’ They arrive in all sorts of vehicles, including an ATV, a boat on a trailer and vintage cars.
Hannah poses for a photo at the pre-prom party with her friends Jenny Shin (centre) and Nicole Burli.
Hannah dances with her friend Jenny Shin.

What are you doing after high school?

I accepted my offer to Queen’s in Kingston – arts program ... I want to be a web or graphic designer. Maybe self-employed if I get that far.

Hannah jokes around with her friend Dana Boucher and some helium balloons as they clean up after the prom. Both Hannah and Dana were members of the prom committee.

Oscar Lathlin Collegiate

Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Manitoba

School population: Around 450 | Grad class population: 29 | Celebration: A grad supper and dance

Desirae Constant, 18, was class valedictorian and won several awards at graduation, including the Governor-General’s Medal for highest academic average and top student in the Cree language.

Desirae Constant, 18, gives her valedictory speech.

What does grad mean to you?

I don’t want to sound cliché, but I think it’s like the beginning of an end. All the hard work that you put in during the year, it’s kind of all paying off right now. But then after that, you’re not done – we all have goals, I guess you could say, or dreams, that we have to do after. And we incorporated our culture into the grad ceremony – we did a sort of round dance with the grads around the gym while the drum group sang.

For the school graduation ceremony Desirae wore a simple dress.

What are you going to miss most about high school?

The most I’m going to miss is probably the friends I made. Even though I was only here for one year, I made friends with everyone. [Desirae attended school in Saskatoon before enrolling in Oscar Lathlin for her Grade 12 year.] Well, I guess you can’t really say just friends since I’m related to most of them. But I didn’t know them before, so I’d call them friends.

Outside the grad supper at the arena, Desirae, in a full gown, laughs with her friend Makenna Blacksmith.
Desirae grew up in Saskatoon, but came back to her mother’s community of Opaskwayak for her final year of high school.
Desirae was overwhelmed with a gift of earrings from her parents Chris Halcrow and Andrea Constant in their home before the graduation ceremony.

What will you do after high school?

I’m here [on Opaskwayak] for at least two years and I’m going to the University College of the North, then I’ll go off and do my own thing. I plan to go to the University of Saskatchewan, but I don’t know if I want to be a teacher or a veterinarian. I wanted to be a veterinarian my whole life, and just recently moving back home, I wasn’t really around my aunties before [who are on staff at the schools] and seeing them work hard for all these kids – to make sure they finish – even though they may be graduating late they still encourage them any way they can, and that kind of inspired me. So I thought of being a teacher as I was applying to UCN.

Desirae hugs a friend outside the Legion in The Pas, Man., before going in to the graduation dance.

James Fowler High School

Calgary

School Population: Just over 700 | Grad class: 210 | Theme of grad banquet: Midnight

Sara Al Aqal, 18, left Syria with her family in 2013, and lived in Jordan until they arrived in Canada on Feb. 12, 2016. Sara’s graduation banquet took place during Ramadan; she was fasting.

Sara Al Aqal leaves her home for the James Fowler graduation dinner in Calgary on May 25.

What does prom mean to you?

It’s a huge step for me. It’s a big step for me in preparing for my future. I prepared very carefully for this day.

Sara gets ready with her mother before the graduation dinner.

What will you miss about high school?

My friends, my teachers. It was hard to make new friends at first, but they accepted me for who I am. We laughed together, cried together and supported each other. I will really miss my friends.

Sara in English class at James Fowler High School in May.
Sara meets friends at the graduation dinner.
Sara was fasting during Ramadan while at the graduation dinner.

What are you doing next after high school?

Because I came later, I have to do upgrading in English. I want to study medicine.

Sara Al Aqal looks at a photo of herself with the Grad 2018 sign at the James Fowler graduation dinner.

Prince of Wales Secondary School

Vancouver

Student Population: 1,040 | Grad class population: 217

Duncan Bain, 18, gets dressed for a grad dance organized by students. Another, more casual, celebration about two weeks later was organized by the school and followed the graduation ceremony. Duncan received the Michael Schultz Drama Award at graduation for his contributions to the school’s theatre community.

Duncan Bain gets ready to attend prom at his home in Vancouver on June 3.

What does prom mean to you?

It means we can finally all stop panicking. It means we’re almost done. The race has been run. It’s almost finished. It’s obviously an exciting moment for everyone. I think we’re all pretty happy to be here.

David Bromley, Callum Ellis Mennie and Duncan Bain on their way to the prom.

What will you miss about high school?

Probably getting to see the people that I like every day. You build these relationships and then it’s all over pretty suddenly, so that’s probably going to be an adjustment.

Left to right, Jessie Yuen, Callum Ellis Mennie, David Bromley and Duncan Bain pose for a selfie.
Non-alcoholic drinks served at the unsanctioned Prince of Wales prom.
Two students from Prince of Wales Secondary School show their matching corsage and boutonniere.

What are you doing after high school?

Immediately after, I’m taking a gap year and travelling to Europe with my friend Callum. And then, after, I’ll go to university, something in the arts but I’m not entirely sure what or where yet.

Callum, Duncan and David watch other students arrive at the prom.
CREDITS: Produced by CAROLINE ALPHONSO and MING WONG; Photos by MELISSA TAIT, TODD KOROL, JACKIE DIVES, DARREN CALABRESE; Video by MELISSA TAIT; Digital presentation by JEREMY AGIUS; Art direction by MING WONG and MATT FRENCH; Photo Editing by THERESA SUZUKI; Editing by CHRISTOPHER HARRIS