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COVID teens have unforgettable grad

Moms’ perseverance overcomes pandemic obstacles for memorable community celebration
FINAL Grad cap toss 10
Innisfail's graduating COVID class of 2020 shot from an EQUS bucket truck at Centennial Park. The 38 students went to the park following their improvised graduation ceremony outside the Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion. Stephen Black/EQUS photo

INNISFAIL – For 38 young local students June 20, 2020 is a day they will always remember.

Doubly so because of the unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic that arrived in the town and the region in March wiped out regular classes. It was online for the rest of the school year. For graduating students, it was especially heartbreaking. There would be no time-honoured graduation day.

But then came the resolve and determination from a pair of moms – Carrie Black and Kerry Towle. They made it happen for their young daughters and 36 others, all of them Innisfail residents.

The 2020 graduating Grade 12 class ceremony was not just for local teens that went to Innisfail High School (HIS) but also for those who graduated from Red Deer’s École Secondaire Notre Dame High School and St. Joseph High School.

“I think the kids had a wonderful day, and that was the point, to give the grads a day, to gather together and have a nice time with their friends one last time before they move on to their next stage of life,” said Black, whose daughter Maddie is a Notre Dame grad. “We are so lucky. The weather was definitely in our favour.”

But most importantly for the graduating kids was that the grown-ups found a healthy and safe way to give them a day they will one day be able to regale their grandchildren about.

“The circumstances around the world are making it a memorable day anyways,” said Black. “They got one day, despite the fact they weren’t supposed to have anything. They will remember it.”

Under brilliant sunny skies, the graduating ceremony for the 38 began at 1 p.m. in the green space behind the Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion.

The space was provided to the teens and their families free of charge. The graduating teens, most of them dressed in their finest gowns and suits, were joined by about 100 or more family members and friends.

The kids arrived early in cars. They hung out in the adjoining parking lot while Black, Towle and other volunteers were busy making all the preparations, including a stage set on a donated flat bed trailer.

Behind the stage was a huge screen, used during the ceremony to play pre-recorded messages of congratulations from local dignitaries, including members of Innisfail town council, trustees from regional school boards and Red Deer – Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen.

There were also pre-recorded messages from IHS co-valedictorian Ethan McGinnis and Notre Dame’s Carson Rafuse.

Local businessman Mark Kemball emceed the ceremony, which ultimately saw each of the 38 called out one by one to take their walk across the ramp, then turn towards the crowd, move their tassel from one side of the mortarboard to the other, hear the applause and have their photo taken.

“To get to this point today you all should be congratulated,” said Kemball. “It has not been easy.”

When it was all over shortly after 2:30 p.m., the smiling throng of happy teens were then taken in a long caravan of vehicles on a celebratory procession through town. It ended at Centennial Park.

One last final official photo was needed – a group shot to toss their caps. Mission accomplished.

And so too was the mission by Black, Towle and many other volunteers who lovingly wanted to make sure theirs kids had a graduation that would beat all others.

“I am so proud of these kids who have worked so hard over the last 12 years, and a huge thank you to Carrie and every single volunteer for putting this all together,” said Towle.

“Everyone of these kids deserves this town’s appreciation. They love the town of Innisfail. They love their school. They love their friends.

“They are here for the community.”