Grads of 2020 celebrate with lessons in creativity

Oak Bay High 2020 grad Mara Pappas said she has accepted the fact that grad will be different than expected this year.

“It’s not the same as what I had in mind but I’m viewing this now as this is happening, I can’t control this,” the 18-year-old said. “What I can control is how I react to it and how my friends and I react to it.”

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Mara said some students are having a harder time with the situation than others because they were set on having a traditional ceremony as “a final moment” in their school careers.

She said she and a group of seven friends gathered for “our own miniature graduation” on Friday, with a picnic next to Oak Bay Marina while dressed in their grad finery.

They wanted to have an event “where we can feel that all of this work we’ve had to do up until now has been worth something,” she said. “Any way to celebrate that is a win for me.”

As one of about 315 Oak Bay grads this year, Mara will also be part of a larger celebration this Thursday. Oak Bay parents, led by her mother, Anne, are organizing a series of “pop ups” at the homes of Grade 12 students.

The idea is that grads, with parents at the wheel, will follow a route and have their pictures taken in front of special backdrops.

About a dozen pop-ups will be included, with such themes as “Dr. Seuss — oh the places you’ll go,” “Musical chairs” and “Shabby chic.”

Mara said she likes the pop-up idea. Her house is one of the sites and will have a band theme because the school band was a big part of her high-school experience.

As the pop-up celebration shows, graduating during the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming a lesson in creativity at high schools around the capital region.

While school districts are offering virtual ceremonies due to concerns about large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have come up with ideas to add something extra to an occasion that is seen as one of life’s milestones.

Anne Pappas said it was important to cap the number of stops for students at the Oak Bay event.

“Twelve is a very manageable number because we need parents on hand,” Pappas said. “It becomes a very big volunteer commitment.”

She said students can dress however they like.

“So you might see kids in caps and gowns, you might see kids in formal attire — whatever they feel comfortable wearing.”

Pappas said the pop-up concept arose when the committee’s usual large block party for grads had to be called off.

“Everything came to a grinding halt, everything was summarily cancelled with COVID and we frantically started shifting gears and working on alternatives.”

The new options were all going to be online, she said.

“And then as the ‘loosening up’ happened our plans kept changing and changing and changing and changing.”

A vehicle procession had been considered as part of the block party, and it eventually morphed into the pop-up idea, Pappas said.

“Because of restrictions, gatherings no more than 50, we have to make sure the cars are in what I’m calling mini-cavalcades.”

She said locations of the pop ups are being kept under wraps so that there aren’t too many extra people around and distancing can be maintained. Decoration of vehicles will make them stand out and drivers have to be registered for the event, she said.

“It’s pretty exciting.”

Pappas said her motivation has been to do something special for the students “and make it memorable.”

She said she wants things to be as positive as possible “because we’ve had three months of people talking about what they don’t have.”

The awarding of diplomas will be done by school officials with six stages being set up outside the building in two zones on Wednesday and Thursday. The dividing up of students among the stages means that they can have up to six people coming to watch them be acknowledged.

Other schools are also featuring novel ways to give students a send-off to their future.

Reynolds Secondary had a mobile answer to marking graduation last week, with principal Tom Aerts and nine teachers driving around to students’ houses — a portable display in tow — to hand out school awards.

Esquimalt High held a celebration Saturday with a car parade around the municipality. The community was invited to line the streets and cheer the grads.

Stelly’s Secondary is having a similar event this Friday. Students in up to 100 vehicles will follow a looped route that takes in Brentwood Bay and Saanichton. Family, friends and the public are expected roadsides.

Stelly’s staff will be in front of the school spurring the procession on, and council members and district staff will do the same when students pass municipal hall.

Those out cheering will be asked to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and avoid standing in large groups.

Victoria High School’s Class of 2020 marks graduation beginning Monday with the continuing of a tradition that dates the 1950s. Students will take turns going up to the school attic to sign the wall and leave a message for future grads.

The Vic High R&B Band will perform during the day.

Signings will be spread over three days to accommodate the approximately 185 graduating students.

This will be the last class that graduates from Vic High’s Fernwood site before it undergoes a major refit and expansion.

In the Sooke School District, an initial decision to offer only online ceremonies through the schools was changed to allow smaller gatherings after a groundswell of opposition from students.

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