The student council president of Westisle Composite High School made it a point not to specifically reference the coronavirus in her speech to the graduating Class of 2020, opting to call it the ‘elephant in the room’.
Instead, Mary Fran Williams chose to focus on her fellow graduates, ending her speech with a letter addressed to her classmates.
“We did it,” she will say to them. “Three short years later, we are at the first day of the next chapter and the starting line of our lives. I know it is not traditional, but it is ours, just like the world today. The world is ours.”
Ms Williams and class valedictorian, Lucas Gallant, were at the high school on June 17 to video record their speeches for the graduation ceremony on June 23.
“I didn’t want to give life to that,” said Ms Williams after finishing recording her speech. “That’s all that’s taken place in the world right now... We’re not here to talk about COVID-19. We’re here to talk about the grads.”
In order to allow for social distancing measures, this year’s graduation ceremony had to been done differently. Instead of the traditional large graduation, the school organized, starting at 2 pm, 14 30 minute smaller ceremonies comprised of 12 graduates and 24 guests.
“Every year graduation is stressful because you don’t want to miss anything,” said Principal Heidi Morgan. “It’s a pretty important time in their life, as it should be, so is this year a bit more stressful, probably, but I mean, the same job has to get done regardless, it just has to be done differently.”
A photographer has been hired to take photos and those pictures will be provided to students for free. A videographer has also been hired to record the ceremonies, which will be edited and placed onto a memory stick for the graduates for free as well.
A livestream was also set up for those who could not attend the ceremony so they could watch from home.
Ms Morgan said her speech to the 165 graduates will focus on ‘pushing past any obstacles and challenges and coming out on the other side as a better person for it’.
“I hope they realize how much they are capable of they may not have realized before, given the circumstances, because they have definitely been pushed beyond their boundaries and limits and their comfort zones,” she said. “To come out on this side, to cross that stage, hitting this milestone, it’s a pretty big deal and they’ve done it considering the last three and half months have not been traditional.”
Selected by his classmates to be valedictorian, Mr Gallant said he was honoured he was chosen by his peers.
“It was an honour to know my friends respected me and felt like I would be a good voice for the whole class,” he said. “That’s a pretty good feeling.”
While the pandemic has certainly thrown a curve ball at the graduates, the 40th graduation class of Westisle has faced life-changing events before. Mr Gallant said he felt it was necessary to mention in his speech the passing of his friend Conor Shea, who was killed in a snowmobile accident in January 2016 and would have been graduating this year.
Mr Gallant’s speech describes Conor as someone who had a charismatic personality and had an ability to make anyone laugh.
“We were pretty close friends,” he said. “He was a really nice guy.”
Mr Gallant said he wants to wish his classmates all the best for the future.
“Life is going to be tough and tricky sometimes, but just try to make the most out of a bad situation,” he said.