New Brunswick

Chipman teachers reimagine virtual graduation for Grade 12 students

Dylan Sullivan has been spending his last few months of high school sitting in an empty parking lot talking with friends in separate vehicles.

They'll forever be known as the class of COVID-19

The province has given the OK for high schools across New Brunswick to hold a graduation ceremony, but it's up to schools to figure out how to do that safely. (Mark Felix/The Orange County Register/Associated Press)

Dylan Sullivan has been spending his last few months of high school borrowing his parents' jeep to sit in an empty parking lot on Chipman's Main Street and talk with friends from inside their respective vehicles.

At the end of March, the province announced all public schools in New Brunswick would be closed indefinitely because of COVID-19, bringing all graduation plans to a grinding halt. 

"Trying to say goodbye is hard enough as it is, but being apart is even harder," said the Grade 12 student from Chipman Forest Avenue School, almost 80 kilometres northeast of Fredericton.

For months, the 18-year-old had his high school's Safe Grad and Hollywood–themed prom all planned out.

Dylan Sullivan only has a few more weeks until he graduates with his classmates at Chipman Forest Avenue School. Before last week, the Grade 12 student wasn't sure he would even be able to do that. (Submitted)

In science class, he had asked his friend Megan to be his prom date. In early March, he had his tux rented from a clothing store in Fredericton. And he planned to wear a burgundy tie to go with Megan's prom dress.

"I'm not happy about it."

But students and teachers have been rallying together to try to make it a memorable year for graduates — one that has nothing to do with COVID-19.

You work from kindergarten to Grade 12, you've got to walk across that stage.- Steve Hachey, high school teacher

At the beginning of April, the high school created an online yearbook over Youtube, dedicated to honouring its Grade 12 students.

"This is their time to shine," said Steve Hachey, one of the teachers at the Grade 6 to 12 school and one of the channel's organizers.

"They need to be recognized for the countless hours and years to earn that diploma, which is a stepping stone to go onto higher learning or get right out into the workforce."

The channel, which is also featured on Instagram, showcases a series of photos of each graduate over the school year and encouraging messages from classmates and teachers. 

"It's a platform that gives people a chance to give their best wishes [and] to see the grads," Hachey said. 

Graduation on a smart board 

The province recently said schools would be allowed to hold graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 next month. 

But it will be up to schools to come up with creative ways to honour students, while still respecting COVID-19 requirements. 

The province has said graduation plans must be submitted to school districts for approval.

Sullivan and his teammate Ernest Vovk at Harvey High School during basketball regionals. (Submitted)

In Chipman, the high school plans to hold a graduation, where the 23 graduates will walk across the stage — while keeping their distance. However, parents will be watching a livestream of the graduation on a smart board in a separate classroom. 

With the provincial policies currently in place, this means graduates won't see handshaking or hugging among friends, classmates and teachers. 

Sullivan said his parents are excited nonetheless. 

"It is very different, but we just have to follow the rules set out by the province and take it one day at a time," the former No. 7 volleyball and basketball player said. 

Small schools have edge

Hachey said it's a bit easier for smaller schools to adapt to a different kind of graduation ceremony because there are fewer students.

"It's trying to think outside the box," Hachey said. "You work from kindergarten to Grade 12, you've got to walk across that stage."  

High school graduation ceremonies across the province are expected to take place between June 15 and 19.

"I congratulate the graduating class of 2020 for their hard work over the course of their academic career, but also for their resiliency and compassion throughout this pandemic," Education Minister Dominic Cardy said in a statement.

"I hope they continue to grow and pursue learning throughout their lives as they lead us into the future."

Virtual tours for incoming students 

Incoming Grade 6 students will also receive a virtual tour of their new school in Chipman, to help them feel easier about the coming school year.

Although the Department of Education doesn't yet know how the next school year is going to unfold, Hachey said the online tour will allow parents to ask questions and give students an idea of what middle and high school will be like. 

"Their minds will be put at ease," Hachey said. 


Elizabeth Fraser


Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip?