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Coronavirus: London, Ont., area finds unique ways to recognize graduates

London City Hall is lit up in gold to recognize local graduates.
London City Hall is lit up in gold to recognize local graduates. via City of London/Twitter

It’s not the end of the school year local graduates expected, but the community is finding ways to mark student accomplishments all the same.

The ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic means Olivia Ho won’t be attending graduation ceremonies or large celebrations to mark her graduation from H. B. Beal Secondary.

“We have group chats for our classes. Of course, it doesn’t feel right to finish it like this. No one really feels like it’s quite over yet,” she said.

READ MORE: Thames Valley board to postpone Grade 8 and 12 graduations amid coronavirus pandemic

Erica Butler, Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) student trustee, is graduating from Oakridge Secondary. She says it’s been tough for everyone.

“I think I can speak for all senior students when I say this is not the ending we had predicted. Our last day of in-class school was March 13th but nobody knew it at the time. Nobody thought to give their friends an extra hug or get one last cookie from the cafeteria. I remember saying goodbye to my teachers and friends with the complete intention of seeing them in one month’s time,” Butler said.

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“The last couple months of our senior year were supposed to provide us with closure and time to make those last couple memories with our high school classmates.”

Ho says her school is hoping to host a graduation ceremony in the fall but “it’s all so up in the air.” Still, Ho said teachers “put so much heart into trying to translate everything they could for us online.”

Butler says at first she felt “silly” for being upset about school closures when “it was apparent so many bigger things were going on in the world,” but she says the school community still came through to recognize students — be it through delivering graduation posters, putting up graduation billboards in front of high schools, physical distancing prom photographs, or a “drive-thru” graduation.

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“I know nothing can compare to the graduations or proms we may have dreamed of, and I hope in the future we can experience those milestones in some capacity, but I think right now there are some pretty unique memories being made,” Butler said.

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Sarah Chun, another TVDSB student trustee who is graduating from London Central Secondary, says students and community members are doing what they can to make the best of this difficult situation.

“I know everyone likes to have some closure before moving on to the next chapter of their lives — graduating high school is a big milestone in most people’s lives. Our community has really supported us and shown their support.”

Students themselves have been coming together, she said, organizing some “virtual goodbye parties.”

Among the numerous ways the community is recognizing students is a region-wide visual display set to reach its peak on Thursday.

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The Go Gold For Grads campaign, organized by the Thames Valley Council of Home and School Associations (TVCHSA) along with London city councillor Shawn Lewis and Thames Valley District School Board trustee Corrine Rahman, will see the community “glistening gold” on Thursday, June 25.

Homes, businesses and other buildings will be lit up or decorated to recognize graduates.

Read more: ‘Extremely resilient’ McNally High School grads find special way to celebrate

Speaking with Global News in early June, Lewis said the idea first started to formulate after he conducted a Facebook Live Civics Class and fielded many questions from students wanting to know when they could return to school and whether they’d be able to celebrate graduation together.

Lewis says he contacted Rahman about doing something positive to recognize graduation. She suggested looking into whether London City Hall could be lit up to mark graduation.

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An application was submitted to the clerk’s office and approved and the initiative grew from there.

“I reached out to Tourism London, Corrine reached out to some folks that she knows through who professional employment and there was a lot of interest,” he explained.

“Lots of people said, ‘yes, what can we do to help?'”

Lewis says it’s important to recognize students, to let them know their accomplishments matter and to acknowledge that they’ve been impacted by the pandemic too.

“They’ve given up a lot. For us to just give them the show of support and let them see lawn signs on people’s lawns and buildings lit up in gold — just seems like a really positive way to tell them what they’re doing matters too.”

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It’s an initiative that Chun says makes her feel lucky to be part of such a supportive community.

“It makes me feel so privileged to be in a community that really cares for its young people.”

Chun also took the opportunity to highlight some other community members who’ve made a real impact on her life — her mother, principal Vacante, and guidance counselor Ms. Brunet.