Coronavirus: TVDSB to honour grads in special virtual commencement ceremonies

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The Thames Valley District School Board’s usual commencement ceremonies for high school graduates cannot go on due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but secondary schools are planning special virtual ceremonies to make sure that students’ achievements are recognized.

In-person ceremonies, which are usually held around the Thanksgiving holiday, aren’t currently possible due to provincial COVID-19 protocols on physical distancing and size gatherings, but the board says that doesn’t mean school communities can’t celebrate at all.

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“All the elements of a secondary school commencement will be present in the virtual commencement except, of course, the physical attendance,” explained superintendent Paul Sydor.

“We’ll have greetings from dignitaries, we’ll have the awarding of awards from community service groups, we will have the valedictory address and we’ll have virtual presentations of graduates and their Ontario secondary school diplomas.”

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The virtual ceremonies will occur for all of the board’s 27 secondary schools and will either be live-streamed or recorded and later broadcast over a private YouTube channel. Sydor says parents and guardians who haven’t yet received information about their school’s plans can reach out directly to the high school.

“They will walk you through the process to ensure that you too get the link and the opportunity to participate.”

Sydor also shared his own personal experiences in reflecting on how important these ceremonies are for students and their families. His youngest son graduated in 2019 and was valedictorian at Saunders Secondary and was able to enjoy an in-person celebration that included Sydor’s father-in-law, who has since died of cancer.

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“We as a family are so happy that he was there and able to celebrate my youngest son’s graduation from high school,” Sydor said.

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“I know that many families out there would not want to miss this moment and have members of their family that will come together around screens to celebrate kids.”

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One advantage of the virtual ceremonies is that loved ones from around the world can tune in.

“We also know that providing these links and providing the online format doesn’t necessarily mean that people can all tune in at the same time. So the links will remain live so that when families, if they can’t get together when the actual commencement ceremony is there, it’s recorded and they can watch it at any time.”

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The virtual ceremonies will take place before the end of November. Schools will distribute students’ Ontario Secondary School Diplomas by mail or contactless pickup, the board says.

The ceremonies come months after a community-based campaign dubbed Go Gold for Grads in June that recognized local students through special lawn signs and billboards as well as the illumination of buildings throughout the region, including London City Hall, in gold.