The honking of horns filled the streets of Black Diamond as an unusual graduation ceremony took place in the Oilfields High School football field Thursday.
Forty-two graduates and their families congregated in vehicles - decked out in signs and balloons - that surrounded a stage in a physical-distancing ceremony that paid tribute to the achievements of the 2020 graduating class on June 25.
Emcee Dave Toews, the school’s industrial education and career and technology studies teacher, began the ceremony by expressing empathy that the graduates couldn’t partake in a traditional grad ceremony or be with their friends in the last months of their high school years due to physical distancing restrictions and mass gathering regulations in light of COVID-19.
“Grads, I know how times might be hard for you right now, especially since this awful COVID-19 business sort of stole your last semester together,” he said. “I understand how you all were robbed of some of the defining moments you had been looking forward to for years.”
Toews went on to describe the whirlwind experience the past years spent with this year’s graduates have brought.
“There have been moments when you have driven us mad and made us question our own sanity, but let’s face it, teachers are all nuts anyways,” he joked. “Of course there were so many times when you brought a smile to our face or made us laugh out loud or maybe just shake our head in sheer and utter disbelief. But without you all, our days at OHS have felt pretty empty lately.”
Toews expressed pride in the students, as well as excitement for what the future holds in the next phase of their lives.
He reflected on how he felt when he graduated high school.
“I was stoked to get the heck out of there, but at the same time I felt a sense of sadness and maybe loss,” he said. “It might be how some of you feel today. I know you tough cowboys are holding back tears right now.”
Toews challenged the graduates to live life with kindness, compassion, patience and perseverance.
“Rise to every challenge that comes your way and don’t hold back,” he said. “Trust yourself, dream big and start living your dreams.”
The graduates also received words of encouragement through letters from government officials, who were unable to attend due to mass gathering restrictions.
The graduates then took their turn to express gratitude to their teachers, parents and communities.
Jaedyn Neufeld thanked the teachers, describing them as friends and mentors.
“We can confidently say we would not be where we are today without a lot of you,” she said. “Thank you for investing so much of your time, your hearts and your passion into each and every one of us. Thank you for the sacrifices you made. Thank you for always believing we could, even when we were certain we couldn’t.”
Valedictorian Nikita Palamar thanked staff and parents before reflecting on the years spent with her fellow graduates.
“Some of us have been together for 13 years, some arrived along the way, which didn’t make them any less special to us,” she said. “We learned together, laughed together and had a number of fights with each other, but we always found our way back to each other. I want to thank all of you for being such an important part of my life.”
Palamar encouraged her classmates to forge ahead into the next phase of their lives, whether that’s staying close to home or moving abroad, while expressing some sadness about the end of their high school years.
“We always said, ‘I can’t wait to graduate,’ but I think we all hold some regret in those words,” she said. “Graduating is not only the end but also a beginning to the rest of our lives.”
Before the graduates embarked on the next chapter of their lives, parent Tyler Fisher offered his words of wisdom.
“As students you may think COVID-19 has dealt you an unfair hand in life, well get used to it - life will throw you many obstacles,” he said. “I have seen you face this pandemic head-on with gusto and perseverance. You have adapted to what life threw you and in the final quarter you have changed the way you learned and completed your studies.”
Fisher took a moment to remind the graduates about the importance of friends and family.
“As you move into adulthood - or as I like to call it, the end of freeloading - make sure you remember that as long as you have family and friends there’s nothing you can’t succeed in,” he said. “Don’t regret knowing the people who came into your life. Good people give you happiness, bad ones give you experience. The worst ones give you lessons and the best people give you memories.”
Fisher challenged the graduates to embrace their mistakes as they head to new jobs or post-secondary school.
“With mistakes comes knowledge, so use that knowledge to better yourself,” he said. “So remember, be you, have fun, appreciate the little things and never ever give up on your journey or dreams. We, as your parents, are so very proud of you today and always. Enjoy your next chapter and thanks for all the memories you have given us.”
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