After their last two years of high school were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mississauga, Ont. Teenager and her peers crave a bit of normalcy to mark the end of this stage in their lives – not another uncluttered, only online event.
“It comes up in almost every conversation,” she says. “The fact that this is a pre-recorded video that you have to watch is really disappointing. It’s not a motivation, you know, because we’re almost there at the end, and it’s really sad that this is how our graduation is going to be.
Keshav therefore proposed an alternative. She calls on the Ontario government to allow COVID-safe outdoor ceremonies with physical distancing and personal protective equipment.
“It’s something really important to us,” she said. “We want to celebrate this milestone properly, especially since we’ve spent our entire senior year in a pandemic and half of our junior year as well.
Keshav isn’t the only one who wishes for an outdoor ceremony.
An online petition she launched less than a week ago had collected more than 9,700 signatures as of Sunday morning. They come from people who identify as students, teachers and parents.
“I would like to have at least one memorable experience in Grade 12,” wrote one signer.
“This year has been full of disappointments, let’s not end on one,” said another.
For Nathalia Aranda, 18, of St. George, Ont., Losing her degree in person would mean missing out on long-awaited – and hard-earned – recognition.
“When you leave high school, you don’t just leave with a diploma, you leave with other features like the honor roll, scholarships, and your future goals are announced. And I think it’s really important for us students to get that recognition for everything we’ve worked for, ”said Aranda, who signed the petition on Saturday.
She said she had been planning her graduation ceremony since grade 9 and hoped to use it to pay homage to her roots after leaving Colombia when she was younger.
“I really wanted to cross the stage and wave my flag just to show that anyone can get here,” she said. “And that’s really what my plan was. And now I can’t do that because it’s on Zoom. “
The demand for in-person graduation ceremonies comes as Ontario continues to tackle the third wave of the pandemic, with the province extending a stay-at-home order until at least June 2.
Students across Ontario have been learning remotely for over a month, and it is not yet clear whether they will return to physical class before the start of summer vacation, even as vaccination efforts intensify.
The province aims to open immunization appointments to all people 18 and older by the week of May 24, and it hopes to start immunizing teens between the ages of 12 and 17 in June.
But it remains to be seen how many young people will receive their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – the only one approved for use in minors – in time for graduation ceremonies, which usually take place around the end of June. .
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he was examining the feasibility of outdoor ceremonies.
“Ontario students deserve this safe, positive conclusion to their school journey,” Caitlin Clark said in an email. “We are actively working with the Chief Medical Officer of Health on this to preserve these opportunities to proudly recognize the success and incredible accomplishments of our students.
But some school boards say even if the province gives the go-ahead, it may be too late to host an in-person ceremony.
The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, for example, said there are significant hurdles in organizing such events and keeping them safe.
“If the stay-at-home order ends, there will most likely be outside assembly restrictions in place that limit the numbers. We have graduating classes that would number over 400 students, ”Bruce Campbell said in an email, adding that Peel is one of the biggest COVID-19 hotspots in the country.
“(The board) made the decision, in consultation with our public health units, to participate in virtual graduation events again this year.
The lay council in the same region, the Peel District School Board, made the same choice.
He’s been planning virtual celebrations since February, using last year’s online ceremony as a template. This event featured recorded performances by students and alumni and was viewed by over 10,000 people.
Keshav, however, believes there is a distinct difference between this year and last year.
“The class of 2020, her graduation was just a few months after the start of the pandemic,” she said. “It’s been over a year now and since then we’ve learned a lot. The organizers know how to make the events different. Many adaptations can be made. I think graduating now is a lot easier than it would have been last year. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 16, 2021.