British Columbia

B.C.'s 2020 valedictorians sum up a surreal year amid pandemic

Graduation ceremonies have been drastically changed, if not cancelled altogether, because of the pandemic, but the class of 2020's valedictorians still have the commencement spirit.

'If the grad class of 2020 can get through this, I feel like we could get through almost anything'

Dilan Ilhan and Agartu Ali, valedictorians for Victoria High, share their advice for the graduating class of 2020. (Rohit Joseph/CBC)

Valedictorians are given the responsibility of delivering a final speech summing up twelve years of schooling, but for the class of 2020, the global pandemic has put a different spin on things. 

For one, even the process of picking a valedictorian has changed. Among Vancouver Island schools, the process often involves a month-long nomination process and vote among students, with another month to prepare the speech. 

This year, that selection process was condensed into 10 days as many school districts decided to have the same grad ceremony for consistency, safety, and equity purposes.

In some cases, students had to make 90-second promo videos for their election process, then a vote took place, and then those selected had a few days to write their speech.

Kathy He, one of the valedictorians for Stelly's Secondary in Saanichton, said writing the speech was a tricky balancing act between acknowledging the pandemic, but also celebrating everyone's achievements.

"As teenagers who were told that these last three or four months were going to be the best months of our lives, it does feel like a big deal for us," she said. 

Kathy He is one of the valedictorians for Stelly's Secondary in Saanichton. (Submitted by Kathy He)

"It was difficult to take my speech and not just focus on the fact that there's this whole pandemic [but] ... it was also important to me to acknowledge all of the other things that we had done, and before this pandemic, all the memories that we did make."

And as grad ceremonies move virtual this year, the grand, in-person audience for the valedictorian speech is a lot smaller. 

John Mark Suriao, one of the valedictorians at Parkland Secondary in North Saanich, said it will be a few staff members who witness his video-recorded speech.

"I guess I'll just imagine that there's going to be more of them. It's hard. It's hard to focus too if there's no one around. I'm probably going to laugh or something," Suriao said. 

John Mark Suriao is one of the valedictorians at Parkland Secondary in North Saanich. (Submitted by John Mark Suriao)

The one silver lining about the pre-recorded speech is you can re-record it if there are stumbles.

As for what advice these students have to offer their peers, Agartu Ali from Victoria High said to embrace the unique nature of the graduating year.

"[For the] grad class of 2020, we'll just stare at each other in the eye and have this kind of bond form because we'll know how each other feels. It'll be something special for years to come," Ali said. 

Her co-valedictorian Dilan Ilhan concurs.

"If the grad class of 2020 can get through this, I feel like we could get through almost anything," Ilhan said. "I feel like we have not only had the honour of calling ourselves resilient but we've shown it. We've proven it."

Listen to the segment on All Points West:

Due to COVID-19, graduation ceremonies have been drastically different this year, if not cancelled altogether. But valedictorians are still being given the chance to make their speeches. Our Rohit Joseph, a former valedictorian himself, spoke to a few of them about what they plan to include. 10:06

With files from Rohit Joseph, All Points West