The challenges of graduation ceremonies during a pandemic

March 30, 2021, 8:32 am


Much like the high school graduation ceremonies planned last school year during the government mandated shut down of schools, this year too, has its own set of challenges. These challenges lie within the regulations and restrictions outlined by the government of Saskatchewan and school divisions, but also within the community itself.

The limitations in place by the government are intended to keep the people of the province safe during the pandemic. However, these guidelines are ambiguous and largely left up to interpretation—interpretations which can vastly vary and create so many more questions than answers. These questions circle around logistics and capabilities and reality. How can a plan be safely executed in such a way that celebrates the graduates and appeals to the majority? Can we have a ceremony in a parking lot? Does the class have to be arbitrarily divided into two or even three groups to have multiple ceremonies? What space can accommodate this? And most importantly how can we regulate crowds, bystanders and participants to follow government mandates?

No matter what interpretations are brought forward, decisions require a rubber stamp of approval from the school division before planning can proceed.

In addition, planning can only go so far. The guidelines are ever changing depending on transmission rates and regional cases. To add yet another denominator to the equation, there are now variants of concern. These are significant factors which will impact the next set of regulations and guidelines to come out. It is unclear what regulations mid-April will look like and planning is paused until these are made public. This will directly impact the ability of communities and households to gather and celebrate the Class of 2021. Much like last school year, so much is uncertain. All of this uncertainty has an emotional side, affecting the planners, families and the graduates themselves. Decision making is challenging since there are so many emotions involved. Frustration levels can be high on both sides of planning.

The school’s hands are tied because of the limitations which have been outlined. No one wants to be responsible for an outbreak or being the small-town graduation ceremony that makes it on the evening news for all the wrong reasons. Most schools have had a well-oiled machine in their previous years of graduation ceremonies, therefore it is frustrating to have to throw out the old program and create something new and yet it is understandable why it is necessary. Of course, schools and staff would prefer to celebrate the successes of students who they have watched grow, learn, and succeed. It is frustrating to not be able to accommodate the wants of the parents and students because of regulations.

Either way, graduation is the time when students will cross the finish line in the metaphorical race of high school and teachers have been there to pass them water, Gatorade and snacks along the way. They have been torch bearers and baton carriers too. Schools want to do what is best, with what has been thrown at them. But, like so much during this pandemic, restrictions and limitations have prevented the normal of the past.

Shayna Zubko is a teacher at Esterhazy High School.