A packed parking lot and a mostly empty arena were two of the hallmarks of the 2020 graduation ceremony for 155 R.D. Parker Collegiate Grade 12 students on June 26.
Students and speakers were the only people inside the C.A. Nesbitt Arena while the parking lot outside was packed with one car for every graduate, and the crowd showed their approval with honking horns rather than standing ovations as speeches honouring the Class of 2020 were delivered.
The group of students whose last three months of high school were spent at home learning remotely was reminded by speakers to remain resilient and to enjoy the moment because you never know what’s going to happen next, as everyone around the world discovered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Li Cripps spoke on behalf of parents, as her son Dylan, who died three years ago in a boating accident with his father and two other people, would have been graduating this year.
“Your life is the most valuable asset you will ever have,” said Cripps. “Your life is also the most precious gift that your parents can ever give you. Live your life to fullest with no regrets, makes lots of memories and do what makes you happy.”
That message was echoed by school trustee Guido Oliveira, who reminded his graduating daughter Taylar Hanson-Oliveira and all her classmates that they need to take time to enjoy life.
“Life gets away on us all too quickly,” he said. “Take the long way home, buy the more expensive wine, splurge on the first-class ticket. In short, spoil yourself.”
The Indigenous guest speaker, Thompson Fire & Emergency Services Capt. Ashling Sweeny, the department’s first female captain, said success isn’t about never failing but about how you react when you do. The first time she tried to get into fire college, she failed the physical fitness test by three seconds. When she passed that and three other hurdles the next year, a health issue prevented her from beginning her studies another year.
“You will face many challenges, roadblocks,” said Sweeny. “Never give up on your dreams, follow your passion. If I didn’t believe in myself … I wouldn’t be here. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s OK, get back up. You may fail. That’s OK too, get back up. You are the resiliency of 2020 COVID crew. Have fun and enjoy the journey and I hope you like bumpy roads.”
RDPC teacher Bonnie Sousa told the graduates to go after what they really want even if it seems unlikely.
“So many of us choose our pathway out of fear because what we really want seems impossible,” she said. “Follow your passion, stay true to yourself.”
Class valedictorian Jasraj Kullar told his classmates that they have an opportunity to make the world a better place in their post-high school lives.
“This year has been a tremendous display of resiliency throughout many minority groups across the world, including groups such as the Black, Indigenous and LGBT communities and many other minority groups.” Kullar said. “We should not hate but accept each other’s difference and not discriminate and have hatred for people of other colours or genders. We should be leaders and raise our voices to these sensitive matters. We can not just stand around and be bystanders.”
As much as their last year of high school was not ideal, principal Rob Fisher said the graduates should appreciate what they did have.
“While other schools around the country did virtual grads, had lawn signs, had home visit diploma presentations or cancelled grad altogether, we got to do something different,” he said. “We get to have our kids watch each other graduate in our arena in person.”