A class to be proud of

By Mike Baker

Congratulations are in order.

Last Tuesday, June 29, I had the pleasure of attending Haliburton Highlands Secondary School’s 2021 graduation ceremony, where 113 students joined, spiritually, in celebration as they marked the culmination of their high school journey.

Throughout the day, groups of students arrived at the school, each taking their turn to make the symbolic walk, collect their diploma and take pictures with family.

It was certainly refreshing to see so many happy faces. Considering all that these students have had to endure, and everything they’ve been put through over the past 18 months, it would have been understandable if there was a less-than-joyous atmosphere on the day.

Think about it for a minute, this year’s graduating class have had almost their entire year snatched away from them. There have been no sports activities, no extracurriculars, no field trips. Students who were able to attend school in-person for a few weeks in the fall and early winter were explicitly told not to gather in groups, effectively breaking up social and friend circles. There was no prom, and, finally, there was no huge to-do over their graduation.

Rather than having hundreds of people gathered together inside the school’s gymnasium to celebrate the class’ collective achievement, graduation was held in the parking lot. Students were asked to remain socially distanced as they took turns walking down a decorated pathway to a gazebo to greet principal Chris Boulay and vice principal Jennifer Mills. They then moved quickly in a loop to receive their diploma, collect a class sweater and then leave. A virtual ceremony was held later in the evening.

It was definitely efficient, and HHSS staff, notably Boulay and Mills, did an excellent job of recognizing each individual student and making them feel suitably special on their most special of days. Still, I couldn’t help but feel for the kids. Their senior year – for many of them, the last with friends they have quite literally grown up with – their prom, now their graduation… All casualties to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a credit to the students that, despite a year of constant upheaval, they took it all in their stride and were still able to enjoy their watered down graduation.

And with that said, there is plenty to be positive about. Many of them are moving on to bigger and better things, whether that be an engaging post-secondary program, a thought-provoking apprenticeship or an exciting new career. They have a brand new blank canvas to fill as they prepare to take the next steps in their life.

So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in putting your hands together for the HHSS graduating class of 2021!