New Brunswick

Students lament loss of 'princess moment' and other graduation events

Julia Walker isn't sure who's more upset about her not getting a chance to wear her prom dress — she or her mom. 

COVID-19 pandemic has sidelined most graduation traditions for the class of 2020

High school graduation, with its traditional ceremony, is a fundamental coming-of-age experience for many, but for the grad class of 2020, things are going to feel a lot different. (Shutterstock)

Julia Walker isn't sure who's more upset about her not getting a chance to wear her prom dress — she or her mom. 

"Probably my mom because she put so much money into it," said the Grade 12 student at Saint John High School. 

"My mom said if we don't end up having a proper prom ceremony or pictures, she's going to hire one of our friends … to come and do pictures of me and all my friends and our dates and our dresses, so that we can have our princess moment." 

Well, once hair salons are open again, she adds quickly. And if crowds are allowed to gather again.

There are just so many uncertainties about what should have been a magical time for a Grade 12 student. 

Lisa Walker said her heart breaks for her daughter and all of the graduation traditions that she's missing out on. 

"I have her prom dress hanging in the closet and every time I look at it I get teary," she said. 

Julia Walker with the prom dress she likely won't get to wear to prom. (Submitted by Lisa Walker)

And it's not just the prom. Lisa Walker is disappointed that she won't get to hear her daughter's name called to accept her high school diploma. 

"We wait 13 years to see them walk across that stage, so it's very hard," she said.

"And it's not just prom and graduation, it's everything leading up to it … I know it will eventually be a blip in her life, but to her, right now, it's everything." 

For nearly 8,000 Grade 12 students in New Brunswick, the global COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on their final year of high school. 

To try to make up for a bit of that loss, the New Brunswick Provincial Student Representative Council is hosting a weeklong online celebration for graduates. 

"We know that lots of grads this year were devastated by the coronavirus and their proms were cancelled and all their grad events were cancelled," explained the group's vice-president, communications.

"So we thought we would host a virtual, online event to celebrate graduation," said Joanna Daramola, a Grade 10 student at Saint John High School. 

Lewie Kernighan, a Grade 12 student from Saint John, has helped plan a weeklong online event to celebrate graduation. (Submitted by Lewie Kernighan)

The week kicks off Monday with "grad photo and quote day," where students are invited to share their graduation picture and quote, and include @nbpsrc and #nbpsrc in their posts. 

On Tuesday, grads are asked to post a photo of themselves from kindergarten, Wednesday is extra-curricular day, Thursday is freshman day, and on Friday, students are asked to post a photo of themselves sporting their future post-secondary institution's colours. 

Lewie Kernighan is a Grade 12 student at Simonds High School in Saint John and the president of the provincial council.

"For a lot of students, over their entire school career, the biggest thing they look forward to is walking across that stage," said Kernighan. 

He suspects that a lot of people who have already done that have forgotten how big an event it is in a student's life. 

"It's really easy when you're already past your graduation to downplay that. It's something that we haven't experienced, and it's definitely a huge tradition," said Kernighan. 

As a student who's always focused on academics, he said, it's particularly difficult to miss out on the graduation ceremony. 

But as a cadet, and as someone going on to post-secondary education — he's experienced similar ceremonies and expects to again. For many students, however, high school graduation is "their one shot," he said. 

Graduates are invited to take part in a week-long online celebration. (Facebook)

"To receive your diploma in the mail versus to actually go and receive your diploma at graduation is a huge difference," said Kernighan. "It's a big milestone for a lot of people."

And it isn't just the formal events like the graduation ceremony and the prom. It's all of the social events that help wrap up one's kindergarten-to-Grade-12 journey. 

Often schools have their own unique traditions. For Saint John High School, for example, it's the potluck, casino night, and "white-dress day," said Julia Walker. 

She said she and her Grade 12 cohort have even been robbed of the chance to say goodbye to many of their friends and acquaintances. 

For a lot of students ... the biggest thing they look forward to is walking across that stage.- Lewie Kernighan, Grade 12 student

Even the excitement of looking for a summer job has been dampened. She's been laid off from her part-time job at a coffee shop, and her preferred summer employer wants to see her diploma, which she's not sure when she'll receive. 

"It's definitely difficult," she said. 

"I don't know when I'll start working, and obviously summers are for helping pay tuition and the school year. I'm not really sure when anything will start picking back up again."

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