To appreciate the unusual nature of Parkland Secondary’s pre-taped virtual graduation ceremony, consider its timing.
It will air online on June 24, but students recorded it on May 29, days before the school officially reopened on June 1. In fact, the taping of their graduation ceremony was the first time many of the students had walked into their building since its closure almost six weeks ago.
Lizanne Chicanot, the school’s principal, said the virtual graduation ceremony came about after it became clear that it could not hold its traditional graduation ceremony at the University of Victoria.
“There was a lot of reluctance to let go of that model,” she said of the discussions between the school and its graduation committee. “But after people realized that there is no way that we can have a gathering of no more than 49 people, we had to look at other alternatives,” she said.
The chosen alternative sees students walk across the stage at the school’s auditorium with a video crew recording them. The crew will then edit that footage along with footage of speeches and musical performances into a video to be posted online on June 24.
To retain a semblance of normalcy, the school’s auditorium included the familiar arches, decorations and signage.
“The students really wanted to keep it as much as possible as what they would have typically experienced at UVic,” said Chicanot.
But this virtual graduation ceremony also required concessions to prevailing pandemic guidelines. Students shuffled across the stage in groups of five, with a new group coming in every 10 minutes. This staggered schedule meant that only a handful of students were ever present in the auditorium along with other needed individuals including the video taping crew. Initial rules also prevented parents from attending, but at the last minute Chicanot decided to allow parents to attend, if they chose.
“Not all of the parents came, and taping the ceremony enables all of the grads to see it and enables all of your family members to see it,” said Chicanot.
The taped graduation ceremony also created its own dialectic because unlike a live event, participants could correct mistakes, she said. “If you are at UVic, you don’t get a chance to do something over again. You have one shot. Whereas with the virtual [ceremony], you have an opportunity to retake and try again. So a number of students did that.”
This ability may have turned out to be a double-edged sword. While it allowed speakers to correct mistakes, it could also lead some to aim for perfection. “So it took a little bit longer because we had to re-tape certain parts,” she said.
Also gone from the ceremony was the traditional handshake and that moment when students acknowledge the crowd. “There is something in that moment that is captured,” she said.
So what did the experience without all the familiar pomp and circumstance feel like? John Mark Soriao, who is class valedictorian along with Kaylee McCullough, said he missed the atmosphere that a large gathering of people can create.
“There were barely any people that went,” he said. “I know a few buddies who didn’t go, who didn’t want to go. In a regular graduation ceremony, you are all with your friends, you are wearing a gown and stuff, you are all sitting in the same room.”
The post-graduation ceremony were also anti-climatic. Soriao and his friends went to the Sidney Pier to take some pictures. “And that’s about it,” he said. “There is no party or anything, no after party. It just felt really quick for me.”
While Chicanot would have preferred the usual ceremony, the virtual ceremony was “a really good second option” that energized her.
“From my perspective, it was wonderful,” she said.“I hope this is a one-off, but if if we have do something like this again in the future, at least we have been through it now.”
In the grand scheme of things, Soriao called the ceremony a “lot of fun” and some things did not change despite all the unusual circumstances.
“I just felt excited, and happy that I am done,” he said in describing the experience. “I made my family proud. My dad was in the audience.” He also appreciated the historical nature of the occasion, calling the virtual grad memorable.
“It’s unique,” he said. “It has never happened before. It will be cool telling your kids that this happened, ‘When I was your age.’”
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