Manitoba student mourns lost grad in COVID-19 moment for 'history books'

A Manitoba mom and her daughter share the story behind an emotional moment that captures some of the feelings of the class of 2020.

Kierstin Dion shares story behind photo that captures emotions of class of 2020

Kierstin Dion holds her head as she thinks about missing out on grad. (Submitted by Jenn Dion/Anne Leslie Photography)

Kierstin Dion's family hoped to celebrate the culmination of her studies and see her flaunt her dream dress at graduation.

The Grade 12 student who lives just outside Portage la Prairie had picked out a poofy pink gown back in October. She and her classmates had also spent months picking out the decorations and caterers for the big night.

"Everyone was really excited about it," the 18-year-old said.

That was until graduation plans for the class of 2020 came to a grinding halt and the world was turned upside down.

Kierstin Dion admires her dress in front of a row of lockers. (Submitted by Jenn Dion/Anne Leslie Photography)

The global spread of the novel coronavirus brought the province to a near-standstill when the Manitoba government declared a state of emergency and provincial public health orders ordered schools to close classroom instruction to prevent further transmission of the virus.

"It's very different," Kierstin told CBC's Information Radio host Marcy Markusa during a recent interview.

When her daughter had to go clean out her locker at school, Jenn Dion realized it might be the last time Kierstin would set foot in the school before receiving her diploma. That's when an idea struck.

Unable to capture her daughter's big day of smiles and being surrounded by gowned friends, Jenn instead organized a special photo shoot to record grad during a pandemic.

Kierstin Dion cleans out her locker in what could be the last time she steps into her school. (Submitted by Jenn Dion/Anne Leslie Photography)

"I wanted her to have pictures of what her senior year was, how it ended, even it was sad or happy," Jenn said.

"I think it will be in history books, this time in our life, and I just wanted to capture that."

Jenn called up her friend, who is a photographer, to ask her to join them in the empty hallways and document that final encounter.

She also wanted to give her daughter the chance to wear the grad dress she had earned. But since the soon-to-be grad's gown had not yet arrived, they asked the boutique where they purchased it from if they could borrow a sample version of the dress for a photo shoot.

Kierstin Dion mourned her grad gown while her emotional mother Jenn Dion walked down the school hallway. (Submitted by Jenn Dion/Anne Leslie Photography)

"I was kind of nervous. It was a pretty emotional day for me and you know just being in the school for the last time was just kind of hard for me," Kierstin said, adding it felt nice to put the dress on, take it all in and capture it on camera.

At one point Kierstin said she "sat down because I was kind of getting sad" as she reflected on how disappointing it was that she and so many others had missed out on their final semester.

"I just put my head in my lap and just started to cry," she said. "There was a lot of emotions during that time."

The province has started reopening and relaxing the COVID-19 restrictions, as of Monday, but there are no plans for students to return to classrooms — and certainly no directions for grad parties — as part of phase one of getting back to business.

In the meantime, Kierstin is left wondering if her class and other graduating students will ever get their big night.

With files from Margaux Watt