Celebrating the Class of 2021 in a Pandemic

Students, families and school staff are working together to make high school graduation celebrations as special as possible, as the pandemic has impacted typical commencement and grad celebrations for the second year in a row.

While the Class of 2020 had their graduation plans upended after COVID-19 changed everything last March, this graduating class is the first to have their entire school year disrupted by the pandemic. Building on last year’s creative celebrations, all high schools across the District will be incorporating a virtual event in recognition of the Class of 2021, as well as small in-person opportunities strictly adhering to health and safety protocols put in place by the Ministries of Health and Education.

In the buildup to graduation, schools have tried to maintain tradition, as much as possible with “Grad Spirit Week” involving multiple activities, and “Formal Day” – complete with an opportunity to take socially distanced photos with friends while dressed in their graduation finest.

Virtual and small in-person ceremonies are taking place throughout the District beginning June 9 with the first of the special Honouring Our Youth events for Indigenous students planned for each school. All of the ceremonies for students include a welcome and opening provided by Elder Latash Nahanee from the Skwxú7mesh Nation and Elder Roberta Price from the Coast Salish Territory of Snuneymuxw and Cowichan Nations, with additional blanketing teachings shared by the Elders as part of the Honouring Our Youth celebrations.

Secondary school events for the school’s entire Class of 2021 are taking place between June 21 and 29. Students will have an opportunity to maintain a rite of passage in the smaller in-person portion: walking across the stage in their cap and gown, receiving congratulations from their principal and having a photo taken. The virtual event for students and their families and friends includes time-honoured traditions, such as the school valedictorian and principal’s addresses, performances, presentations, and recognition from the Chair of the Burnaby Board of Education and the Superintendent.

Jen Mezei, Chair of the Burnaby Board of Education has a message for graduates:

Your final year of high school has been dominated by something that is out of your control. Whether you learned primarily in school or virtually at home, we truly appreciate all you have and are experiencing. Graduating during a pandemic is one of your accomplishments. The grit, resilience, and adaptability you have shown will serve you long after COVID-19.”

In planning their school leaving ceremonies this year, schools have gathered input from their grad councils, graduates, staff, and Parent Advisory Councils. The Ministry of Education provided guidance to support school leaving ceremony planning throughout BC, in alignment with provincial health guidelines. The key parameters that grad organizers are required to follow for in-person “individual” ceremonies are:

  • each student may have a maximum of four guests (plus additional children under age 12 who require supervision), and if indoors, guests should be members of the student’s household(s) or someone who lives on their own but regularly interacts with the occupants of the household(s).
  • gathering and crowding must be prevented at all times, with guests abiding by all required safety measures.

Provincial direction also allows for non-school, community-organized private events, which must have a COVID-19 Safety Plan and adhere to the Order on Gathering & Events.

While it’s not what students imagined their final year of high school would look like, the school community is working together to provide events that allow for the space to honour, reflect and celebrate the incredible achievements of the Class of 2021.

Read the graduation feature in the Burnaby Now (June 24), with excerpts from the speeches of the 2021 valedictorians – on pages 40-44.


Posted June 2021