In-person classes may have already been cancelled for Aldergrove Community Secondary School (ACSS) students – but one tradition remained.
The 62nd graduating class, like the six decades of Grade 12 students who came before, walked the stage in cap and gown to commemorate their high school experience.
It was a new kind of ceremony in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each student stood two metres apart with hands sanitized. Six waves of students walked the stage on June 3, in time slots ranging from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
They were able to have just two relatives or guests in the audience for their graduation ceremony.
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This year’s valedictorian, Josh Dyce, summed it up during his recorded speech on June 4.
“Instead of speaking to an auditorium of proud family members I’m speaking to two members.” His mother and father sat at a distance from a handful of other parents at the back of the gymnasium.
Guests were directed to hand-washing stations before being escorted to the school’s gym to stand and watch their child receive their diploma.
“Though we are missing out, we are making history as the first – and hopefully last – to have a virtual ceremony amid a pandemic,” Dyce continued.
The podium was sanitized between speakers and before ACSS principal Jeremy Lyndon took the stage to address the class of 160 ACSS graduates of 2020.
“Nobody could have foreseen a pandemic. Tonight is not about what you lost. It’s about honouring you and celebrating your accomplishments,” Lyndon said.
“Today is a proud moment for us as a school.”
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Sam Way’s legacy of relentless perseverance
The principal proceeded to tell students about an ACSS student from the grad class of years before.Aldergrove’s Sam Way “approached the stage,” he said about a student crossing the stage in 2012 – “He did so slowly with a little help from staff.”
Way was met with “the loudest, longest standing ovation I have ever heard,” explained Lyndon, who said the applause went on for minutes.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the building.”In Grade 6, Way had suffered a traumatic brain injury.
He entered high school in a wheelchair, unable to walk the halls without assistance.
In Grade 8, that student pledged that he was going to walk across the stage at his graduation ceremony, Lyndon explained. Way also promised himself that he would be able to finish 18-straight holes of golf at one time.
By Grade 9, Way was using a walker. He worked hard alongside former strength and conditioning teacher Gord Dennison to regain physical coordination and strength.
Then, by Grade 12, the teenager walked the school hallways with the aid of a cane, a far cry from his former wheelchair.
Still, Way remained determined to cross the stage during the commencement ceremony – unassisted, the principal recalled.
By the time it was his turn to graduate high school with the class of 2012, Way achieved his goal. He walked across the stage “no wheelchair, no walker, no cane,” Lyndon witnessed.
The teen also managed to finish a full game of golf that year, sturdy on his feet.
“Life had taken just about everything it could have taken from Sam. But he refused to accept the reality others created for him,” Lyndon shared with this year’s grad class.
“He had lost so much, but not hope. Not resilience. Not his sense of optimism.”
The principal encouraged students to approach the pandemic the same way. Instead of seeing all that it has taken away from their class since B.C. schools shut down March 17 – including a grad banquet and final months of school – he encouraged them to persevere.
Dyce said since the school’s closure, he’s witnessed his Grade 12 class find ways to contribute significantly to their community.
“Just look at all we’ve done,” he said, “Jessica Bercea has been working in an elderly care home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Kailey Randle created Hope Hill,” a place for people to place rocks with messages of hope during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Though many of us feel uncertain,” elaborated Dyce, “this grad class will go on to do great things in this world.”