'A huge day': Maples Collegiate honours grads after more than 2 years of pandemic disruptions

Graduates from Maples Collegiate beamed from ear to ear for all of their classmates and families to see as they crossed the stage Tuesday night to collect their diplomas. 

Ordeal instilled camaraderie, care among the 320-strong graduating class: principal

Students standing at a graduation ceremony
Students at Maples Collegiate are among thousands across the province being celebrated for graduating after making it through high school in a global pandemic. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Graduates from Maples Collegiate beamed from ear to ear for all of their classmates, teachers and families to see as they crossed the stage Tuesday night to collect their diplomas. 

The 320 graduates are among thousands of students in Manitoba who finished high school this week after more than half of their time there was spent in a global pandemic.

"Ecstatic — I'm in shock right now, I can't process this. I'm graduated and I'm done and a lot of sleepless nights, but I got through it," said Shakeel Hanif, 17.

Shakeel Hanif says his graduating class looked out for one another throughout high school and he will continue to be there for them. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

More than a dozen members of his family were at the RBC Convention Centre to cheer him on as he walked across the stage. 

"They're my rock … I'm glad they're all here and celebrating with me right now. I'm glad that everyone could be here. I love them so much."

Yarema Duplak and Ahmed Zeid say they'll miss their classmates, and hope they work hard, be themselves and do what they love. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The Maples choir sang Bridge Over Troubled Water, a tune chosen to reflect the experience of most graduates experiencing the first convocation in three years.

It started out normal for them in Grade 9, but the next two years were plagued by mask mandates, school closures, cancelled sports and after-school clubs, gathering prohibitions, a travel ban and months of online learning.
Anshika Sharma was awarded the Maples Collegiate Governor General's medal for her academic achievement. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Friends Yarema Duplak and Ahmed Zeid said the loss of two years of their high school experience may not have been fair, but showed them they could survive with patience and discipline.

"It's surreal. I wish I had one more year. Two years of COVID was unfortunate. But I'm happy to be with Ahmed and my other friends and we made the best out of it," said Duplak,18, adding the highlight of his last year was resuming basketball and other sports again with fans in the stands.

"I feel like the first year when we were starting to do online school, everybody was a bit confused and we never really got the knowledge that we were supposed to do," said Zeid.

Navdeep Gaidu is congratulated by principal Scott Shier. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"Going back into school, it's like 10 times harder, because you have to learn the stuff you had to learn last year. And going forward, hopefully no one else has to do that."

Both friends said they plan to enjoy their summer before heading off to university in the fall. 

Kevin Bittern, an Anishinaabe student from Poplar River First Nation, said it wasn't easy going back and forth between Winnipeg and his home community 346 kilometres away, and he's proud of his accomplishment.

Kevin Bittern, from Poplar River First Nation, graduated and completed a vocational culinary arts program. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"Feels amazing, I guess, because during high school there was so much on my chest, because I was far away from home, far away from community," Bittern said, adding he's now looking forward to getting into social work to give kids in the Child and Family Services system a better experience.

"Just getting those credits, finishing school, make my community proud."

Aya Alzoubi, 18, is the eldest of six siblings who came as refugees from Syria in 2016. 

The pandemic made the math and science classes especially difficult, she said, but her perseverance earned her a spot at the University of Manitoba to study medicine. She credits her family, all of whom were in attendance, for getting her there.

Aya Alzoubi, originally from Syria, graduated from high school and will go on to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"It showed me my hard work, that I got to believe in myself. There's people out there that are supporting me. Without them, I would never have been able to walk down the stage. I'm just so happy to have them beside me," she said. 

Before the students crossed the stage to the school band playing Pomp and Circumstance, Maples principal Scott Shier said he'll remember them in a special way.

Aya Alzoubi's parents Sameer Alzoubi and Manar Alobaid say they're proud of their eldest daughter and have been waiting for this moment for a long time. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"It was how much they cared for each other and how much they enjoyed each other's success and you really, really saw that when the masks came off and we got to do large events again," he said. 

"This class was always like that, but I think the camaraderie that the pandemic brought to them, they've been through so much. They've had two years stolen from them."

The celebration was also for the grads' families, who have been involved more than ever before due to all the at-home learning, he said.

Scott Shier, Maples principal, says he's proud of this year's graduating class, who showed extra care for each other throughout high school. (Jaison Empson/CBC)
Everyone in Shakeel Hanif's family came to celebrate his accomplishment. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The parents beamed from their seats, cell phones held high and tears in their eyes.

Shakeel Hanif's mother, Monique Hanif, said there would be no one prouder of him on this day than his late father, who had always wanted his son to study hard and go to school. The athlete got through it and begins university in the fall.

"And we're always going to be here — his dad in spirit, of course, and me here. And that's the other reason we're all here. It's important, it's important and this is a huge day."

Maples Collegiate honours grads

1 year ago
Duration 3:35
Featured VideoFor many, the memories made in high school are some of their best. But this years graduates spent half of that time in a global pandemic. 320 graduates from Maples Collegiate received their diplomas last night. They're among thousands who persevered through school closures, mask mandates, online learning, cancelled sports, trips and events