Ontario schools make plans for virtual graduations as pandemic drags on


Several schools in Ontario are already planning virtual graduation ceremonies for the class of 2021 as the pandemic makes in-person celebrations unlikely.

While most high school graduations are still a few months away, some boards are already thinking about online events to mark the occasion that typically takes place in June.

In Toronto, Canada’s largest school board said it was expecting to have graduation ceremonies take place online but was giving individual schools some flexibility in the matter.

“While graduation ceremonies will very likely be virtual again this year, we defer to local schools to develop an event that works best for them and their school communities,” said Ryan Bird, spokesman for the Toronto District School Board.

The Peel District School Board – which serves Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon – said it was planning virtual celebrations as well, but was also looking into having students accept their diplomas in a drive-by ceremony with social distancing measures in place.

“In preparation for 2021 celebrations, we are in discussions about all potential landscapes within which these events might take place as the COVID-19 global health crisis continues to evolve,” said board spokeswoman Tiffany Gooch.

In June 2020, more than 10,000 people tuned in to watch a virtual celebration of Peel’s graduating students – which featured performances by students and alumni, said Gooch.

In Sudbury, Ont., one school board has already told parents upcoming graduations will be virtual.

“Last year, we held out hope that we would be able to gather for traditional graduation ceremonies. With the ongoing pandemic, however, it simply was not possible and our schools hosted virtual ceremonies last fall,” the Rainbow District School Board wrote in a recent letter to parents.

“This year, we are accepting the reality sooner rather than later.”

The board said its schools “will go the extra mile” to make graduation memorable for students.

Madeline Terzo, a Grade 12 student from Aurora, Ont., said teachers have told her class not to count on having an in-person ceremony this year as the pandemic shows no sign of ending by the summer.

“It’s not what I pictured. You walk into high school and you look towards your future, you look towards prom and graduation,” said 17-year-old Terzo.

“When you find out that it might be virtual, you won’t get to wear that cap and gown, and throw your cap up, it’s very upsetting.”

Terzo said her family is making plans to make her graduation day special in some way.

“We’re trying to be positive,” she said. “But it’s hard.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press