MANITOULIN – Senior students at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) were able to take in all the pomp and circumstance of graduation in a unique way through a bus tour that brought school staff to their homes for a safe, physically distant handoff of their high school diplomas and gifts last Monday evening.
“It was definitely overwhelming when I saw it,” said graduate Kal Alhadi who stood with family at the end of their driveway as a Central Manitoulin fire truck escorted a school bus to the lane.
“I was sad I was not going to see my teachers before leaving to university. Seeing them definitely made me happy; that was an awesome idea,” he said.
On Monday, June 29, several members of MSS administration, staff and Grade 12 teachers met at the high school where four buses from three Island providers—AJ Bus Lines, Brian Corbiere Busing and Brown’s—had assembled.
The MSS crew brought decorations for the buses, including balloons for the outside and congratulatory banners hung by the windows.
“We all felt so bad for this year’s grads,” said principal Jamie Mohamed. “This year was full of voids. They didn’t have a graduation, of course, but they also didn’t have a whole last semester. We felt it was definitely something we wanted to do to mark the occasion.”
The drive-ups were first planned to be teachers in their individual cars for maximum physical distancing. To add extra fanfare the staff discussed having fire truck escorts but eventually resolved to travel in small groups on school buses. The plan began with a single bus but soon grew to three and, at the last minute, a fourth.
The teachers divided themselves to keep physically distanced and split the routes so every student could get a visit within a few hours.
“We didn’t want to rush and wanted to be there with the graduates and celebrate with their family in a safe way,” said Mr. Mohamed.
At each stop, the graduate received their diploma, a grad photo composite if they ordered one, as well as an MSS mug and a $25 gift certificate for an Island business courtesy of Cambrian Insurance and Algoma Mutual Insurance Company (which likewise did the same for every graduate at Wikwemikong High School).
These items were loaded into a long-handled smelting net and extended to the graduate from afar.
“For everyone to come together and put the time in to make the effort work was incredible. It really makes me realize just how tight-knit the people on the Island are. We were all shooting for the same cause and that was to commemorate this milestone in young adults’ lives. It came together really well,” said Mr. Mohamed.
The next evening, about half of the graduates and their families visited the Manitoulin Country Fest grounds in Little Current for a drive-in and picnic-style grad ceremony organized by a parent.
“I figured they had been shafted enough with their trip being cancelled to Europe and now losing their graduation, so I was trying to let them have something,” said organizer Carrie Green, whose daughter Rheanne was among the graduates.
Country Fest proprietors Craig and Kelly ‘KT’ Timmermans were happy to host the event and set up an audio feed over the radio for those who stayed in their cars. Ms. Green got clearance and encouragement from Northeast Town mayor Al MacNevin, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, Public Health Sudbury and Districts and the Ontario Provincial Police.
Country music star George Canyon recorded a performance of O Canada to open the ceremony and also gave well wishes for the students. Island businesses like Orr’s Valu Mart and Wally’s Septic Services donated items and services and the Timmermans created photo booths.
“The parents who showed up were thrilled the kids had some sort of memory. Many of them said they enjoyed this more than a regular graduation,” said Ms. Green.
Ms. Green has organized a few initiatives in the past such as renting the Little Current Public School gym during a strike so the gymnastics team could continue training—they went on to win gold at a championship that year, she said.
MSS plans to host a make-up graduation ceremony at Awards Night, scheduled for Thursday, December 17. Going forward, the school intends to return to a June graduation schedule.
For more photos, please visit this newspaper’s website, Manitoulin.ca.