PENHOLD – The COVID class of 2020 has finally been officially saluted.
Penhold Crossing Secondary School held its graduation ceremony on Sept. 26 for the special 30 who moved on from the 2019/2020 school year.
The hour-long ceremony was unlike any other held at the school but it was still special for the 24 graduates and their families who attended in the main gym of the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
“Don’t worry if you don’t have a plan for your life yet. COVID is still around to blame all that on,” said Laurel Ford, the Class of 2020 valedictorian, who opened her speech to say that after 12 years and a couple months the moment of graduation “felt unreal.
“Due to the circumstances we have lost some time together. But we are here now and at a time most graduates wouldn’t get to be,” she added to the 94 graduates and family members who were socially distanced in the cavernous gym. “We have been given the opportunity to catch up with each other and be in school one more time, something I am very grateful for. Not too many things went to plan this year but one fact remains true. It is that we all endured this together.”
The revised ceremony, according to Grad Coordinator Carmen Christie-Bill, was 13 months in the making, with the all the original large-scale planning made before COVID struck last March, and then figuring out how to create something revised but special for the graduates after.
But no one needed to worry. The COVID graduation went smoothly and each kid had a most special day.
“I think you probably wondered if you’d ever hear those words,” said Sherry Cooper, the Chinook’s Edge school trustee for Penhold during her address to graduates. She also gave the Town of Penhold special thanks for honouring the graduates on June 1 with a large banner and multiple signs in front of the multiplex, as well as a video that went on social media.
Cooper was joined at the ceremony by Ray Hoppins, the school division’s associate superintendent; Shawn Hamm, the town’s deputy mayor and Red Deer County councillor Dana Depalme.
Earl Dreeshen, the federal MP for Red Deer-Mountain View, gave his congratulations by video, and it too was special for the times.
“You are our future problem solvers,” said Dreeshen. “The world is changing. We will be looking to you for answers.”
When the hour-long ceremony was over the graduates had huge smiles, put on their mortarboards and posed for more photographs. There would be more celebrating later, and then most would either leave town to go back to their post-secondary schools, or wherever life is now taking them.
In the meantime, school officials were just happy they could finally honour their 2020 graduates, despite all the COVID challenges facing them.
“We are used to doing the full meal deal for kids and obviously grad had to look different so we did some things in spring and some things now,” said Christie-Bill. “I am just hoping they feel that they were honoured and that they had a good day.”
Scott MacDonald, Penhold crossing’s principal, said school officials were grateful they could finally give the kids the celebration they deserved. He added the unprecedented pandemic-style ceremony went well, with the experience valuable for possible future reference.
“I don’t want to do this again but I think it has been good practice, and I know as we are planning for next year’s grad, because that is the next step,” said MacDonald. “Starting in October we are talking grad 2021. I think we will have to have something like this in the back of our minds, so we will be planning for the normal grad and then the ‘what if’ grad.”