Last week, Toronto’s elementary and secondary graduating class of 2021 were informed that their schools would be moving forward with virtual graduations rather than traditional in-person ceremonies.
“All TDSB schools will continue with their previously planned virtual graduation ceremonies,” a statement released on June 4 from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) reads.
“We know how important graduation ceremonies are for students, staff and families—especially after such a challenging year where “in-person” memories have been few and far between. At the same time, months of planning have already gone into creating virtual graduations for students, costs have already been incurred and there is very limited time to plan in-person events of this size,” the TDSB said.
The TDSB’s decision came two days after an announcement made by the provincial government, in which Premier Doug Ford said Ontario school boards would be permitted to hold “short, outdoor celebrations” for graduating students.
“We’ll be working with school boards and health officials to make sure we can have outdoor graduation ceremonies for all students in all grades this summer,” Ford said on June 2.
Across the city, students are outraged and disappointed by the TDSB’s decision.
Already robbed of a traditional school year, they will not have the opportunity to smile for professional graduation photos, don a cap and gown, walk across a stage and celebrate with friends.
“This has been one of the hardest years of education for most students. On top of surviving a global crisis, we went through gruelling quadmesters and still came out with diplomas and post-secondary plans. Virtual graduation will not honour the hard work put in by seniors this year. We do not deserve to finish a 12-year education over Zoom, especially when an in-person option is available,” a petition set up by grade-12 students, demanding the TDSB host in-person graduations this summer, reads.
Nour Shahrour is a senior at a North York high school who took to Twitter to share her frustration on Friday.
“I think it’s really important to celebrate our achievements. We missed out on our whole year,” Shahrour told 6ixBuzz. “Everyone always says, ‘grade 12 is the best year, senior year is the best year.’ We missed out on it completely. We barely got to even see our friends.”
Shahrour questioned the TDSB’s claim that “costs have been incurred” in the planning of virtual graduations.
She noted that at the beginning of each school year, many students in schools across the city pay a fee. This typically covers costs for agendas, locks, yearbooks and so on. As learning was done virtually this past year, none of these were provided, Shahrour said, and she is unsure where the money has gone.
The high school senior also said that, throughout the year, she and her classmates fundraised for their prom by selling sweaters.
“Where is that money going to if it’s not going to us?” she said.
Shahrour said student bodies, and even parents, are willing to help with the planning of in-person ceremonies, “because they understand how important it is to us.”
As of today, Shahrour, who is headed to Ryerson University in the fall, has not been provided with any information from her high school on a virtual graduation.
In their letter, the TDSB added that for students who want to see friends and staff before the end of the school year, they are currently “exploring what may be possible for limited end-of-year, in-person activities such as students picking up belongings, dropping off devices/materials, saying goodbyes, etc.”
On June 4, Ford’s office issued a statement saying, “we are extremely disappointed to hear that some school boards are passing on the opportunity for their students to celebrate safely and in-person with their teachers and friends.”
As there are still a few weeks left before the end of the school year, the Premier is encouraging school boards to “think outside the box” to offer students the “send-off they rightfully deserve.”
“A grade 12 graduation, you only get it once in your life,” Shahrour said.