GTA schools trying to make this year's online grad festivities 'as memorable as we can'

It's looking increasingly likely that the high school class of 2021 will be donning their graduation caps and gowns in front of a webcam this year - though the province says its encouraging in-person events.

Province says its encouraging in-person events as grad season draws nearer

For a second straight year, COVID-19 will force GTA high school graduates to celebrate online, as time runs out for pivoting to in-person grad events of any kind. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

It's looking increasingly likely that the high school class of 2021 will be donning their graduation caps and gowns in front of a webcam this year.

Given that, school boards are encouraging schools to put effort into planning online events that are as special as possible. 

"We know that this is difficult. Going to your graduation ceremony is such a huge part of your high school career," said Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). 

"We're trying our best to offer that virtual option and at least make it as memorable as we can make it." 

Bird says it's up to individual schools to plan their events and "do what works best," adding that there's "definitely room for creativity" when it comes to speakers, music, and interactive elements. 

All that planning for an online grad sits in contrast to what the province says it would like school boards to do. The Ford government told CBC Toronto in a statement on Tuesday that they are "encouraging school boards to seek the approval of their local public health units in order to provide safe, in-person and meaningful graduation ceremonies." 

But Bird says that given the amount of planning that goes into graduation events, it's unlikely that anything could change. 

"While I can't speak for all schools, typically end-of-year ceremonies and graduations take months of planning, so it would be difficult to flip to in-person ceremonies."  

Online shows and games

The Peel District School Board is also planning an all-virtual graduation season, encouraging its schools to find "alternative ways" to celebrate their graduates. 

At Streetsville Secondary School in Mississauga, grad week celebrations held this month included a talk show that streamed live on Youtube, a baby photo guessing game and an online game of family feud.

Peel hasn't yet committed to any board-wide activities, but last year the board held a virtual celebration that included musical performances and speakers that was watched by some 10,000 people. 

Meanwhile, the Halton District School Board is encouraging staff at each school to create a slideshow or video featuring grad traditions like a valedictorian speech and awards. 

Schools also have the option of adding a drive-thru element, said a spokesperson who added that the board will be putting up congratulations banners on billboards and transit shelters in the community. 

The Durham District School Board, meanwhile, made the following statement to CBC Toronto: "Secondary schools will be making school-based decisions in order to honour local traditions,in line with public health restrictions." 

Petition for outdoor ceremonies

But despite the best efforts of school boards, online performances and virtual speeches might be cold comfort to this year's graduates. 

"I definitely feel like we're missing out on a lot," said Toronto Grade 12 student Jackie Huo in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning last week. 

"Beside the ceremony, it's also just being able to say those goodbyes to people." 

There's been an online push to allow high schools to hold distanced outdoor graduation ceremonies, with a petition addressed to Premier Doug Ford attracting more than 15,000 signatures so far. 

Anoosha Keshav, left, created a petition calling for outdoor graduation ceremonies in Ontario. Madison Reaume, 18, right, from Tecumseh, Ont. signed it. (Submitted by Anoosha Keshav, Submitted by Madison Reaume)

"A graduation ceremony with physical distancing and wearing masks is possible," said Anoosha Keshav, the Mississauga student who started the petition, in a recent interview with CBC Windsor

"We just want this one thing to celebrate our accomplishments and one last time to see our friends and teachers before we go through different paths."

With files from the Canadian Press


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