At your typical high school graduation, hugs and handshakes are the norm, as proud grads walk across the stage.
For staff and students at Hunting Hills High School, which held its grad in a much different manner, that was perhaps the hardest part.
“It’s like a parent saying goodbye to their kid, and they don’t get to give them a hug,” said principal Darwin Roscoe.
“If you’ve been at grad, lots of times, we give the kids hugs and shake their hands and watch them go off into the world. And we didn’t get to do that.”
Last Friday marked a unique graduation celebration for the school, as many students dressed in gowns or suits on their front porches, or at a safe distance, reflecting the difficulties that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.
They also received personalized bumper stickers from the school, a special touch to make the grads still feel proud, on what was supposed to be a monumental moment in their lives.
Close to 350 grads were set to cross the stage this year for Hunting Hills.
“This is a really special group, because they have been with us since I was principal, right from Grade 9. I felt really connected to lots of them,” Roscoe said, adding it was made tougher because they are the first of four high schools in Red Deer to hold their graduation events.
“I watched them all the way through, playing sports, and watched their productions and their musicals and everything else.”
Franklin Ma was just hoping to see the smiling faces of his friends, classmates and teachers as the school year winds down.
Ma, who was named valedictorian earlier this year, instead, said the past few months have obviously been difficult.
“I guess I do feel proud, but what I feel honoured more about is my friends and teachers and people who I have been around, who allowed these years to be not so stressful as they could have been.
“I think that helped me achieve this distinction,” Ma said.
He added that he still holds lots of hope for his classmates and what they can accomplish, especially if they take some valuable lessons away from their time at Hunting Hills.
“I hope for everyone to find their own successes and their own way,” said the 17-year-old, who will be heading to the University of British Columbia next year.
“I’d also like to say to them that no efforts go unrewarded. Because even if what you strive for doesn’t turn out to be true, I think the satisfaction that you did try your best is reassuring.”
Roscoe added that his message to the grads is a similar one: that despite the circumstances in the world right now, and how difficult it might seem, their experience over the past four years will have prepared them more than they know.
“I say this all the time: if you earned a diploma from Hunting, you are ready to take on the world. You really are. They are truly ready to go out and be successful,” he said.
“We take a lot of pride in making sure we’re not just getting them to graduation, we’re preparing them for the future.”