The Class of 2020 has celebrated its graduation from Diamond Jenness Secondary School in Hay River.
However, the celebration was like no other in the history of Diamond Jenness as the ceremonies were held outside the school because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Class valedictorian Bryce Smith recognized the unique situation in his address.
“While in the midst of a global pandemic, I believe it is safe to say that our final year of high school has been quite the adventure, to say the least,” he said. “Towards the end of March, we learned that we could no longer attend school in a normal fashion, and I’m sure we were all thinking the same thing – this is pretty awesome. We could sleep in, take it easy, watch some Netflix.”
However, Smith said reality quickly set in.
“That day we were told to stay home was the last experience we would have of high school, ever,” he said. “On that day, our lives as high school graduates were turned completely upside down. The reality of missing out on so many end-of-year memories and traditions as graduates has been extremely disappointing for us all. However, the experience of graduating in the midst of a global pandemic has given us the opportunity to look back on our high school memories while at the same time teaching us to never take anything for granted and to cherish the moments we might not have before.”
The ceremony was missing one of the graduates – Molly Ella McMinn (Mandeville) – but she was on the mind of everyone. She was one of two young people seriously injured in a traffic accident in early June and she is still in hospital in Edmonton.
“However, I think you would all agree that she is very much here today, as well as wish her a speedy recovery through whatever challenges lie ahead,” said Smith in his address.
The injured student was represented for the class photo by a chair on which were her diploma, a mortarboard hat, a graduation stole, a Metis sash and a bouquet of flowers.
The graduation ceremony was limited to 50 people outside on the grounds of the school at any one time.
Parents and other family members watched from vehicles and listened to the speeches on an FM radio channel.
As each graduate received a diploma, only five family members were allowed out of a vehicle at a time to take photos, and they then had to return to the vehicle.
Recognizing the unusual times during the Covid-19 pandemic, principal Lynne Beck said this school year was challenging.
“But you rose to that challenge and now you are all here today,” she told the graduates.
“I wish I could promise you that life gets less complicated after you graduate, but I can’t,” she added. “I can, however, promise that, as you face and work to overcome life’s challenges, you will find happiness and become the very best possible version of yourself.”
Unlike in previous years, dignitaries were not present in person to offer congratulations to the graduates.
Instead, recorded messages were played from Premier Caroline Cochrane and Education, Culture and Employment Minister R.J. Simpson, also the MLA for Hay River North.
“I know since the Covid-19 pandemic things have been difficult. What you thought were your final days of classes and what graduation would look like changed almost overnight,” said Cochrane.
Written messages were read on behalf of Mayor Kandis Jameson, Chief Kenneth Cayen of West Point First Nation, Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson and others.
After the ceremony, the grads marched through downtown – cheered on by family and community members. A parade of vehicles then took the graduates around the community.
Earning their high school diplomas were Trey Daniel Beck, Brad David Rene Belanger, Shyla Dee Boyce, Caleb Gavin Patrick Brockway, Jared Marshall Chocolate, Geronimoe Solomoe Constant, Ceaira Marie Flaherty-McKay, Elisha Eileen Della Gill, Nicole Leslie Griffiths, Danielle Hikhaitok Havioyak Lolaohok, Alice Dadgmar Jensen, Hunter Ryan Nathaniel Lafferty, Tarek Jacob Leahy-Chicot, Layne Isabella Leonard, Molly Ella McMinn (Mandeville), Tenielle Liz Patterson, Angus Henry Smith, Bryce Daniel Smith, Julie Rita Squires-Rowe and Zoey Denise Walsh. School completion certificates were also awarded to Connor Michael Hoffmann and Dylan Francis McWhinnie.