For a second year in a row, gathering restrictions will prevent graduates from Calgary Catholic high schools from participating in the types of graduation ceremonies that many of us associate with a typical Grade 12 year. Gone are the cap and gown ceremonies with families packed into the auditorium, the valedictory address delivered to thunderous cheers from the assembly and the banquet meal shared together with peers. In our Catholic high schools, this also means that the traditional celebration of a school graduation Mass with classmates and faculty will not be proceeding. Many of us remember these traditions fondly and feel a sense of remorse for this year’s graduates that they will miss these familiar rites of passage.
However, school communities have responded to the challenges with innovative solutions and alternatives. Graduation is too important to miss – this is the culmination of many years of effort for students and their families. Graduation also holds a hopeful promise for the future, a time where young women and men further explore their place in the world and come to a deeper understanding of themselves and God’s creation. As a Catholic community, we fail to respond to the goodness and blessings abundantly displayed around us when we miss the opportunity to celebrate our graduates.
This year, our high schools are building on what they learned last year to create personal and meaningful celebrations to acknowledge students and their families. A special Mass for graduates was celebrated by Bishop McGrattan at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of the Rockies and the recording will be shared with every graduate and their families. Schools have recorded valedictory speeches and greetings from school staff to share electronically. And, taking advantage of good weather and abundant space outdoors, schools are arranging “drive-through” events and photo opportunities for students to receive their certificates in a safe manner.
Far from being a token celebration, this adapted way of marking graduations allows for an intimate and personal celebration for each individual. As Bishop McNally High School principal, Neil O’Flaherty affirms, “Despite students being asked to repeatedly acclimate to the uncertainty of the coronavirus, celebrating one’s graduation, with family members lovingly alongside, is one tradition that COVID 19 could not prevent. Each high school has made the event uniquely their own and, as we have done at Bishop McNally, each student’s personal accomplishment has been individually (and collectively as a class) celebrated, in a safe manner, with a creative and memorable flair befitting any graduation, past or present.”
Catholic schools have felt particularly called to create spaces of welcome and encouragement for our students during the pandemic. Faced with restrictions on gathering, we are paying special attention to engaging, seeing and celebrating each student. Mackenzie McManus graduated in 2020 from All Saints High School under similar conditions. Her grad class was the first graduating year from the high school in Calgary’s deep south and she fondly remembers the experience of the drive-through grad. “The important part of graduation for me was to be able to walk the stage and get a picture in my cap and gown”, says McManus, “The drive-through grad did that quite nicely.” She noted how much effort it took for staff to arrange the drive-through. Allowing that special time for each graduate extended the event to three days for teachers and support staff who took turns holding congratulations signs and cheering for each student who came through.
Please pray for all Catholic school graduates and their families during this month of June. May the experience in our schools equip them with the knowledge and wisdom they need to continue to grow, learn and serve.
A prayer for Graduates
Lord God, giver of all wisdom and grace,
bless the students who have worked diligently
to prepare for graduation.
Guide and direct them as they go forth
to encounter new opportunities and challenges in the world.
As they continue to nurture their gifts,
help them to stand up for their Christian beliefs
and to further develop values and virtues
that promote communities of fellowship and caring.
May they always act with responsibility and practice integrity
that they may be living witnesses of your word
and instruments of your peace.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers