Donning a cap and gown wasn’t a small feat for Conrad Graup.
The teen has overcome his share of obstacles being born almost legally blind and with Down
syndrome, but it didn’t stop his determination in obtaining his high school diploma before his 18th birthday with a little help from his friends and
teachers at Oilfields High School.
“Conrad has gotten more support through his school years because of his vision than because of his Down syndrome,” said his mom Teresa Graup.
“It’s been really great to have that small high school atmosphere where everybody knows everybody.
"And everybody knows Conrad.”
The consistency of being in the same school with the same staff from Grades 7 to 12 was a blessing for her son, said Teresa.
“Children with special needs thrive on consistency and Conrad developed some great relationships,” she said. “It’s going to be tough for
him not being a part of that anymore.”
Having to leave that consistent atmosphere so abruptly when schools shut down across Alberta in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-
March wasn’t easy for Graup.
“I miss singing O Canada every morning,” he said. “I miss my teachers and going on field trips.”
From a young age, Graup displayed above average intelligence. At age two, he was already
recognizing letters, Teresa said.
“He was a smart little guy who loved to read,” she said. “He excelled at putting words together.”
In Grade 1, Graup had major eye surgery to help correct his severe nearsightedness and nystagmus (a condition where his eyes made repetitive, uncontrolled movements).
The surgery advanced his vision to -13/-14, but adjustments still needed to be made in the classroom to ensure Graup had the same opportunities as his peers.
“In elementary school he used a video camera device with a personal monitor,” said Teresa. “It has been all the amazing technology, paired with
great EAs and teachers, that has really assisted him throughout his school years.”
In junior and senior high school, Oilfields staff ensured Graup had the tools he needed to succeed by hooking his iPad up to SMARTboards, using screens with enlarged keyboards and enlarging worksheets for his assignments.
While staff worked diligently to help Graup, the teen made his own impact on the school community.
In Grade 11, Graup received the Spirit Award during the school’s Black and Gold Awards ceremony for consistently displaying school spirit.
He was well known in the school for his sense of humour and positivity. His sense of humour had a way of winning people over.
“Conrad has a big sense of humour - he loves to laugh and have fun and joke around,” said Teresa. “If you can put something funny to learning, Conrad will remember it forever.”
Graup created nicknames for his teachers relating to his favourite World Wrestling Entertainment characters. For example, Mr. Phil Standen
was “Still Standing” and Mr. Wade Westworth was “The Cameraman.”
In addition to humour, music also became one of Graup’s learning tools.
“If you put anything to music he learns it that much quicker,” said Teresa. “He has an amazing memory. That’s part of why he was successful.”
While Graup thrived inside the classroom, he also has a passion for the outdoors.
Outdoor Ed was among his favourite classes.
“Conrad can’t see a lot of the details, but he just loves the fresh air and loves being out hiking,” Teresa said.
The dojo is another of Conrad’s favourite places.
He is a two-time champion in the para division for the Karate Canada Junior National Championships. He qualified for the senior nationals in Calgary this spring, but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to Graup’s extra-curricular pursuits, he delivers the Western Wheel newspaper.
“I want to continue working for the Western Wheel,” Graup said. “I want to continue doing karate.”
As he moves into adulthood, Graup hopes to one day work with animals. He’s had plenty of experience with his therapy dog - a pointer named Buck - which has been Graup’s companion and coping mechanism for 10 years.
To further develop his skills, Teresa said Graup is on a waiting list to enrol in Mount Royal University’s Transitional Vocational Program which helps students excel in areas like functional literacy, math, computers and personal safety.
“After graduation he wants to get going with some work experience and develop as many independent skills as he can,” she said.
In the meantime, Graup is taking it easy while missing his favourite subjects at Oilfields.
“I love cooking all of the amazing foods in foods class like burgers,” he said.
Graup also misses taking pictures in photography class.
“I take interesting pictures of nature – trees, plants and flowers - close ups of bark on cottonwood trees,” he said.
One of the people Graup misses most at Oilfields is friend Susanna Kiffiak, who took Graup under her wing in Grade 7. She, too, is a 2020 Oilfields High School graduate.
In foods and photography, Kiffiak helped
Graup feel more confident and successful in his abilities.
She received work credits as an educational assistant for helping Graup in their photography class during the first semester of Grade 12.
“I would take him outside and we would go take photos of whatever the teacher would have in mind, we would upload them and do some editing,” she said. “I’ve always liked helping people since I was a little girl. It’s just a passion of mine.”
Kiffiak said she enjoys Graup’s company.
“He and I have always had a good relationship,” she said. “In foods we would be in the same group and I’d help him cook or whatever needed to done.”
Kiffiak kept busy inside the school both during classes and after.
From the age of 14, she worked as a custodian washing desks, vacuuming and sweeping and mopping floors.
“It took some getting used to, trying to balance school and work,” she said.
When staff and students transitioned to online classes in mid-March, Kiffiak maintained her custodial role with more in-depth cleaning including waxing floors, removing furniture from classrooms, washing walls, taking books off shelves and cleaning every nook and cranny.
The extra money Kiffiak makes will help pay her way through medical school, which she plans to pursue after working for a few years.
Kiffiak was on the honour roll and received honours with distinction every semester throughout her junior and senior high years at Oilfields.
She was a frequent recipient of the home economics award and often achieved the highest grades in her social studies and Spanish classes.
While Kiffiak excelled at academics, it was her willingness to help others that especially stood out.
The teen acted as a tutor and mentor, helping other students find resources for projects and understand new concepts. She also listened when they needed a shoulder to cry on.
“Helping people is a big part of my life and seeing someone succeed because you help them in some way means a lot to me, or just seeing a simple smile form on their face out of pure joy or thankfulness,” she said. “I have gotten into trouble quite a few times because I would be busy helping people and my work was not getting done.”