Emily Lewis celebrates after receiving a parent council award during her Grade 12 graduation ceremony on Wednesday with fellow students of St. Joseph's College School, an all-girls Catholic school in Toronto.

With the return of in-person graduations, highschool college students mirror on the turmoil of the previous two-and-a-half years and look with hope to the longer term.

At numerous occasions over the previous 12 months, Grade 12 Toronto pupil Cici Zhan questioned if she’d get the possibility to don a cap and robe and obtain her highschool diploma, whereas cheered on by mates, household and academics.

That day got here on Wednesday — and it was a spotlight of her highschool expertise.

“I actually beloved it,” stated Zhan, 17, who attends St. Joseph’s Faculty College, a women’ Catholic highschool positioned on Wellesley Avenue West, close to Bay Avenue. “Whereas strolling up (to get my diploma), I felt actually emotional.”

Sharing on this ceremony of passage with about 170 classmates was particularly significant due to the various disruptions all through her highschool years on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students at St. Joseph's College School in Toronto celebrate Wednesday as they hold their first in-person graduation ceremony since the start of the pandemic.

This 12 months marked the primary time for the reason that begin of the pandemic that in-person graduations occurred — a standard ending to an irregular expertise marked by college closures, on-line studying, COVID-related restrictions and the lack of extracurriculars, comparable to sports activities, golf equipment and actions.

Following the ceremony, Brendan Browne, director of schooling on the Toronto Catholic District College Board, informed the Star that in relation to the graduates of 2022, “that is their story.”

“They’ve gone by one thing that no person has gone by throughout the final 100 years. And so they have found out methods to recover from, and persevere, and be resilient and optimistic. To not say that it wasn’t extremely robust and took an incredible toll on many. However they did it. And so they achieved the aim that they set out in Grade 9 … That’s one thing that we actually must have fun.”

This 12 months’s grads have been in Grade 10 when the pandemic hit, so that they’ve solely had one regular 12 months of highschool. However many informed the Star the easing of restrictions over the previous 12 months, the resumption of extracurriculars, and the return to a standard semester, helped them really feel like they have been ending on a constructive notice.

Solana Godin, left, shares a laugh with Sabrina Umadac before their graduation ceremony with fellow students from St. Joseph's College School in Toronto on Wednesday.

“Grade 12 was actually the spotlight of my highschool expertise with promenade and commencement taking place in-person,” stated Zhan, who plans to check laptop science on the College of Toronto.

Final 12 months, when lessons moved between in-person and on-line, it took a toll on her psychological well being, she stated.

“Aside from speaking to my mother and father, I don’t assume I interacted with anybody throughout these intervals. And I’m extra of a social creature so throughout that point, the shortage of interpersonal relationships and experiences actually crushed me,” stated Zhan, who took up working to assist relieve stress.

Fiorella Vargas, 17, stated when college shut initially of the pandemic, some college students have been initially excited as a result of they assumed they’d get a break and return in a few weeks. “After some time, we missed the construction of a routine.”

She stated commencement day was particularly good as a result of it included college students who’ve been studying remotely for the reason that begin of the pandemic.

“It’s sort of refreshing and thrilling to be in the identical room with everybody that you simply knew for 4 years, for one final time,” she stated, whereas ready for the beginning of the ceremony at St. Paul’s Bloor Avenue Anglican Church, which was chosen as a result of it was close by and huge sufficient to accommodate everybody.

When the highly-transmissible Omicron variant surged final winter, she anxious this is able to be one other 12 months with on-line commencement ceremonies.

“I needed to at the very least have a photograph of an precise commencement, like a reminiscence. As a result of I wasn’t actually current for highschool as a result of all the pieces was sort of taken away because of the pandemic.”

Solana Godin and fellow students at St. Joseph's College School's first in-person graduation ceremony Wednesday since the start of the pandemic.

Vargas is prepared for “a contemporary begin” at York College, the place she hopes to check nursing, saying, “I could not have had the traditional highschool expertise, however hopefully I could make up for that.”

Principal Anna Patejczuk stated earlier than the pandemic St. Joseph’s was a faculty that by no means slept. When she’d arrive within the morning, there’d already be women practising basketball or coaching for cross nation, and when she’d depart late within the day, after-school golf equipment could be wrapping up.

However then the pandemic silenced hallways. Even when college students have been again within the constructing, COVID restrictions meant there have been no extracurriculars. College students weren’t free to roam round as a result of they needed to keep of their class. They weren’t allowed to eat with mates as a result of they needed to stay in cohorts. They couldn’t see the faces of classmates and academics due to masking guidelines. And so they couldn’t use lockers as a result of they needed to preserve distance — so gone was all the teenager chatter that occurs round them, and the enjoyment of adorning them to mark a buddy’s birthday.

“They have been robbed of the highschool expertise,” stated Patejczuk. “It’s so vital for them to be collectively, and chortle collectively, and discuss and share their issues.”

After remaining COVID restrictions lifted in March, Patejczuk stated emphasis was placed on serving to college students reconnect and re-engage. She agreed to all of the spirit-building actions prompt by pupil council as a result of she knew children “wanted to be collectively.”

“I used to be very lenient. Up to now I don’t know if I’d comply with a water battle,” she stated with a chuckle. “They only wanted to convey the enjoyment again into the constructing … It was extra vital to us than lessons.”

The enjoyment returned. Sabrina Umadac,18, stated her finest highschool experiences have been previously 12 months, notably the assemblies, noting, “Once we come collectively as a faculty, it’s actually particular for lots of people.”

Since COVID restrictions lifted, Umadac stated she’s gotten “much more excited” about going to York College, and being on campus, attending in-person lectures and taking part in extracurriculars.

Grade 12 student Yousif Mohamed, 18, of A.Y. Jackson Secondary School in North York, says having an in-person graduation helped to "salvage a little bit of our high school experience."

At a ceremony for college kids of A.Y. Jackson Secondary College in North York, Yousif Mohamed, 18, was grateful to be amongst his friends, a graduating class of about 275.

“It was actually vital for college kids’ psychological well being and to salvage a little bit little bit of our highschool expertise,” stated Mohamed. “Rising up, we expect highschool goes to be like what we see in films, like “Excessive College Musical.” And we got here into highschool pondering we’d have 4 years of that, however we actually solely had a few months. So having this (in-person commencement) is basically vital.”

He’s grateful highschool began usually, which enabled him to play the trombone at school bands, and attend basketball video games, the place he relished the joy of the gang. However simply as he began to search out his stride and make extra mates, the pandemic hit.

“I used to be planning on Grade 11 being an excellent 12 months and attending to know folks extra and beginning to hang around extra, however the pandemic put a pause on all the pieces.”

Fortunately, he’s “ending on a excessive notice” saying this previous 12 months “was actually enjoyable.” He took up final frisbee, ran monitor, performed within the college’s orchestra, bought concerned in golf equipment associated to music and enterprise and took part within the Black College students’ Affiliation. In current months, in any case restrictions lifted, he felt like he bought the complete highschool expertise.

Sabrina Umadac is all smiles as classmates receive their diplomas during the Grade 12 graduation ceremony for St. Joseph's College School on Wednesday. The event for the all-girls Catholic school was held at St. Paul's Bloor Street Anglican Church.

“There have been simply so many extra alternatives to converse with folks and have an excellent time,” he stated, noting he feels “bittersweet” about ending highschool. “This 12 months, I discovered my footing … And to have to go away so quickly, I simply sort of want that I might do that for an additional 12 months.”

As a substitute, Mohamed is off to Princeton College on a full scholarship. He’s undecided what he’ll pursue — he’s thinking about biology, movie and literature — however hopes to have an uninterrupted college expertise.

Principal Peter Paputsis stated this 12 months’s graduates have got here “full circle,” having began and ended highschool with regular experiences.

“It’s like the complete turning of the day,” he stated, noting they began within the mild, then it turned darkish, however they’re ending “within the mild once more.”

“They’ve come full circle and are main the remainder of the college again to normalcy.”

In an announcement Wednesday, Minister of Schooling Stephen Lecce congratulated all of this 12 months’s graduates saying, “By means of your onerous work, you may have achieved an vital milestone in your educational journey, and we all know you’ll proceed to do wonderful issues.”


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are topic to the Code of Conduct. The Star doesn’t endorse these opinions.

Extra from The Star & Companions