Lakeview School finds unique ways to celebrate its Grade 8 graduates

M’Chigeeng Public Works crew members Dave Bowerman, left, and Braddon Taibossigai were hard at work hanging Lakeview Grade 8 graduate banners along Highway 551 last week, including Cameron Johns’ banner seen above. photo by Alicia McCutcheon

M’CHIGEENG – Teachers of the 2020 graduating class at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng found themselves in the same boat as everyone else as they approached the end of the school year during a pandemic. They decided to find ways to celebrate graduation in a different way than they typically would have. Last week saw the final piece fall into place as five foot banners of Grade 8 graduates were installed along Highway 551 through the community. These banners were installed by Dave and Lynn Bowerman, owners of D&L Contracting, who graciously donated their time and equipment to hang the banners.

Graduation is usually a big family and community event, said Grade7/8 teacher Connie Freeman. “We usually have upwards of 200 people there but there was just no way that was going to be happening.” Also cancelled were a highly anticipated rafting trip on the Ottawa River and a day trip to Canada’s Wonderland. “There’s no way to physical distance while rafting,” she said. “We thought about what we could possibly do to honour them in a way that hadn’t been done before.”

They began with a video that included words from M’Chigeeng leadership as well as teachers from previous years. Graduates received Class of 2020 sweaters. Ms. Freeman and fellow Grade 7/8 teacher Travis Corbiere travelled the community on the last official day of school in June and handed out gifts. “It’s not the same as being able to close the year in a big way,” she said. “I feel for them in this very strange sort of time. I very much felt their disappointment. Who could have known they’d be the class to graduate in a pandemic? They will all remember their Grade 8 graduating year. It’s definitely an historic time to be alive.”

Lakeview was hoping to be able to hold a small graduation ceremony with just parents and students this month but they weren’t sure if it would happen. The teachers arranged for a local photographer, DW Photography, to take outdoor graduation photos which they took to a printer to have five-foot canvas prints created for each student. Each print contains one student’s photo, their first name and school name as well as a congratulatory message in Ojibwe. It was a bigger job than they had imagined. It took time for the prints to be completed and they then had to wait for the equipment to install them. “This has never been done in the community,” she said. “I don’t think anyone on the Island has ever done this so it was a way for us to honour our graduates in a different and unique way.”

“They are so beautiful and it was nice to do that in the community; it felt like a good way to do things,” said Ms. Freeman. “It was an honour and a privilege to teach them. I wish them all the best and hope things get a little bit better and a little bit brighter.”