Frances Kelsey students from left: Celeste Borjeau, Gabrielle Pask, and Mika Leblanc are all on pace for high school completion and want the pomp and circumstance that goes along with it. (Submitted)

Mill Bay students petition for formal graduation

“We have a few realistic ideas in mind that could provide a safe and healthy grad celebration”

A trio of soon-to-be-graduates from Frances Kelsey is petitioning the province to change their minds and allow formal graduation ceremonies on Vancouver Island.

Students Gabrielle Pask, Celeste Borjeau and Mika Leblanc are all on pace for high school completion and that traditionally comes with a lot of pomp and circumstance.

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All of that is in limbo now thanks to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the regulations put in place by federal, provincial and local governments to help keep British Columbians safe.

“There is a policy put in place by [provincial health officer] Dr. Bonnie Henry that is going to be revised as of May 30,” explained Pask. “It is our hope that our school, our district, and Vancouver Island can put on the proper graduation ceremonies for the students who have worked tirelessly to achieve this milestone in their lives.”

Pask noted that as of May 15, there are just five active cases on Vancouver Island, with one patient in the ICU and the remainder in isolation.

“With these rates continuously plummeting, we are on track to get to Phase 3 of B.C.’s Restart Plan, a phase which when we asked Dr. Henry’s office, is a phase that would allow for graduation ceremonies to take place. Dr. Henry will be revising her current legislation on May 30, which means we have until then to get her attention for all the grads on Vancouver Island.”

It’s up to the students now, Pask explained, noting that parent groups and the administrators tasked with planning graduation ceremonies “are being shot down by these legislative practices.”


The grads of 2020 aren’t blind to the realities, however. They’re just willing to work around them.

“We have a few realistic ideas in mind that could provide a safe and healthy grad celebration for the graduating students and the communities they reside in,” she said. “We could hold all the ceremonies outside to increase safety and livestream the events to parents.”

It’s important, on a level that many may not realize on the surface, said Borjeau.

“There are very few experiences and memories that we can share with most all the people in our lives, but high school graduation is one of them,” Borjeau said. “Our parents had their high school graduation, same with our grandparents, older siblings, older cousins, and some of our friends. So, when we finally hit that milestone in our life, a day we’ve been working towards for almost as long as we can remember, it’s not easy to accept that graduation won’t look like you’ve dreamed it would. My heart absolutely breaks for all the graduates of 2020, a lot of whom won’t even have a graduation or will be attending an online graduation.”

Leblanc agreed.

“This year has been my favourite in school so far. I feel as if our class really came together, despite some differences we had, and I was looking forward to our graduation ceremony and the celebrations that came with it. It is our chance to celebrate how hard we have worked and how much we have grown into young adults,” she said. “It was very disheartening to hear that our grad would be modified to the reduced measures and it was important to me to follow every possible avenue to see what could be done to give us a more conventional grad celebration.”

Staff and the board at School District 79 sympathize.

Spokesperson Mike Russell confirmed there is an administrative committee looking into how graduation commencement can be approached this year in a safe and honouring manner.

“A report will be presented to the Board of Education at the Board meeting on June 2,” Russell said.

As for the school board, they’re doing what they can to make things happen, according to board chair Candace Spilsbury.

“We certainly recognize the difficult situation that our 2020 grads are in right now due to the exceptional situation around COVID-19. Our district and each individual school community is working hard to help them recognize their unique graduation in a special way that will both honour their tremendous work, and ensure required safety measures are in place,” she said. “Graduation traditions go back generations in the Cowichan Valley and although this year will be different, we are all committed to recognizing this very important life milestone.”

That’s all the grads want, said Borjeau.

“I am mainly doing this for my friends and fellow graduating students,” she said. “I think we deserve a graduation, and of course I don’t want to put anyone at risk of COVID-19 to do this, but we’re the graduating class of 2020. We made it. We got here together and I want to close this chapter of our lives together, throwing our caps into the air as one.”

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