It may be hard for many of us to believe that we are here again, at the second end of a school year in a pandemic. Perhaps we hoped this year would be different, and indeed in many surprising ways it is. We have learned about ourselves; we have dug deep and carried on, and we have made the best of our circumstances.
Pembina Trails has a tradition of sending senior leadership and trustees to each graduation ceremony. This year, superintendent Ted Fransen joined board chair Katherine McMillan in an online session to connect directly with Grade 12 student representatives from each of our five high schools. Before our graduates shared thoughts on education, the pandemic and the future, they took turns briefly introduced themselves:
Michael Zarychta, Institut collégial Vincent Massey Collegiate, is a lifelong soccer player
Sparsh Agrawal, Fort Richmond Collegiate, enjoys debating
Connor Lantz, Shaftesbury High School, is a prospective engineer with an interest in energy-efficient housing
Jacob Gressman, Pembina Trails Alternative High School, is headed to Brandon next year to study paramedicine
Nhi Tran, École secondaire Oak Park High School, loves languages and being multilingual
Fransen began the call by sharing how he experienced a cultural shift in how graduation is celebrated when he moved to Manitoba from Ontario in the 1980s and how he has thoroughly enjoyed being part of graduation ceremonies, Manitoba-style. He recounted making the rounds to each high school last spring and being warmed by how hard staff and families worked to make graduation the best it could be for the class of 2020. He expressed his admiration to this year’s prospective graduates for their perseverance in enduring not just the last term but a whole year of learning adapted to the pandemic. He then led a round-table discussion based on two questions.
What is something you will never forget about your Grade 12 year?
Nhi remembered the personal touch:
“Especially this year, I think because of COVID, my teacher actually put in a lot of effort to just get us talking. … In my class we have this deck of [cards] of questions that we talk about [for] 10 minutes every day, and I think that’s the highlight of my year.”
Connor expressed gratitude for his teachers as influencers: “It was the teachers [who] really made my Grade 12 experience. I’m gonna remember them for the rest of my life.”
Jacob remembered his personal journey: “I think it’s just the effort I put in this year…[I’m] bettering myself, and that’s what I can remember.”
Michael focused on the technology:
“The zoom meetings, the Teams meetings, the online tests … just that transition from typical school to online learning. That’s what I’m gonna remember.”
Sparsh agreed with Michael, adding, “Hopefully I won’t have to deal with it again, but even if I do, there were parts of it I really enjoyed.”
Are there any silver linings out of the pandemic, and your experience with school this year, that make you think you are better off?
Connor shared how the pandemic has resulted in students picking up new skills:
“This year we’ve learned different tools than regular years, and it’s helped build different habits. I don’t procrastinate as much; I have to rely on myself to get my assignments done.”
Michael echoed the sentiment, observing that “the pandemic forced us to become more independent. It really helps prepare you for that next step, whether it’s your career, university …”
Jacob shared that in alternative high school he has somehow managed to avoid a single Zoom meeting, but in spite of business as usual at school he has noticed profound changes in his home life.
“I’m closer with my family at home,” he shared. “We kind of figured out our differences and, yeah, grown together.”
With the lack of a daily commute and the amount of independent work involved, Nhi has noticed an increase in the amount of free time she has, which she has put to good use: “I’ve found a lot of time to get back to my hobbies that I actually haven’t been doing for a while,” she shared. “Getting back to painting, doing sports, and all of that, was really great.”
Sparsh is cognizant of his impending move out of the country for university, and that has made him appreciate the enforced extra time at home with his family. “It’s been really nice. I also like getting out in the middle of the day to go for a walk, and things like that.”
Chair of the board, Kathleen McMillan, was visibly moved by everything she heard. Her message to this group of five student representatives is intended not just for them but for each and every member of Pembina Trails’ class of 2021:
“Thank you all so much for this opportunity,” she said. “It has been a real pleasure, first of all, to see the resilience with which you have all embraced and adapted [to] and succeeded [in] what can only be described as an usual and a tough year. You have shown us by your own words that you have the independence, you have gained skills, you have the tools to succeed, and I personally feel very very confident that our future is well in hand simply by listening to what you have all said here today. My congratulations to all of you on behalf of the entire Board of Trustees and myself. It’s been both a pleasure and an honour to listen to your stories today. Best of luck to all of you.”
Indeed, the class of 2021 is no doubt filled with stories of resilience, independence, and learning. We are #PembinaTrailsProud of our graduates, and look forward to hearing and sharing graduation stories throughout this month.