Wildfire derails graduation for Fort McMurray students

Dressing to the hilt for grad night, walking across the stage to accept her high school diploma, watching the clock tick down on her final day of class; all important rites of passage Aiman Naeem may never have.

'It was that special moment we had been looking forward to for 12 years'

The remains of partially-melted swing set sit in a residential neighbourhood levelled by wildfire in Fort McMurray. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Dressing to the hilt for grad night, walking across the stage to accept her high school diploma, watching the clock tick down on her final day of class; all important rites of passage Aiman Naeem may never have.

The Grade 12 student fears that hundreds of her counterparts displaced by the wildfire in Fort McMurray will be robbed of important milestones.
Aiman Naeem still hopes to celebrate high-school graduation with her Fort McMurray classmates. (Supplied )

"For us, it was that special moment we had been looking forward to for 12 years," said Naeem, 17, a student at Westwood Community High School. 

It's unclear when classes will resume, but it will be weeks, possibly months, before the evacuation order is lifted.

"Most teachers have said they hope to be back before the end of the year, but maybe our academic careers have come to an end, and that just makes me feel sad and disappointed."

When more than 94,000 people were forced from their homes last week, Naeem and her family fled down the highway to the safety of a relative's home in Edmonton.

Her classmates are now scattered across the province and the country, devastated over what's happened to their home city.

Many of her friends have lost their homes when more than 1,600 homes and buildings were destroyed by the fire — Naeem hopes her family is among the lucky ones.

"We've been told our home is still standing. Our community is untouched by the fire, and we hope that is true when actually go back and see," Naeem said. 

"We've just been anxiously waiting for the day that they announce that we can go back."

Students now at schools across Alberta

High schools across the province have opened their doors to accept hundreds of students displaced by the fire, but Naeem has not registered.

Even though she was a stellar student and is pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering this fall, Naeem felt overwhelmed by the prospect of going to a new school so late in the year.

"I don't think I'm ready to go back ... don't think I'd be able to start fresh in this short amount of time."

​Although she is crestfallen her education has been cut short, she was relieved when diploma exams for Fort McMurray students were cancelled.

"The diploma exams were something I was looking forward to tackling to make sure I had completed that part of my high-school career, but now that they're cancelled I can definitely say that I'm able to focus on more important things at the moment."

As for grad night and the ceremony, Naeem says school staff are doing their best to keep plans on track, but everything is in flux.

"We're really hoping we can have it the way it was planned back home, however we don't have any idea when that might be, when we can go back."

Naeem says they've had countless offers of support from the community, including free grad dresses, tux rentals and alternate venues.

"People are trying to help out and make sure we don't miss that really important rite of passage in our high-school careers, so even if it's not going to be an all-inclusive event it's still going to be something that's memorable, and we'll make sure it does happen.

"It's definitely been disappointing, but we're just glad that we're here, we're alive and that we're ready to have a future."

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