Students ‘devastated’ as HWDSB cancels Grade 12 graduation ceremonies amid COVID-19

A turquoise dress with beads hangs inside Madison Brown’s closet. The 17-year-old has dreamed of wearing it to prom, after her graduation ceremony at Sherwood Secondary School, but she won’t get to celebrate either of those milestones because of COVID-19.

“You have the dreams of going to prom and getting your big graduation … it was going to be a good time and good memories and now I won’t have that,” she said.

Brown may wear the dress one more time, likely in her bedroom, before trying for a refund.

She is just one of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board students who won’t get a graduation ceremony after the board announced it cancelled them because of the virus.

“We all recognize that Grade 12 can be a challenging year for students and the many changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic have created additional challenges,” the board said in a statement. 

“No student will have their graduation compromised by COVID-19 and it is our priority to support Grade 12 students through to graduation.”

The virus has robbed students of a chance to celebrate years of work and a transition into the next phase of their lives.

Students won’t get to stand on stage wearing long, flowy, black gowns in front of family and friends before throwing their graduation caps in the air.

They won’t get to experience the magic of prom — a night full of dresses, tuxedos and final farewells before most drift away and start their own lives.

While the board said it will consider alternatives in the fall, it may have to wait until students have already started college, university, trade school or other paths.

Now, students will likely have to celebrate at home with no more than five people around them.

Students may stay extra year

Isabel Buzdon said her son Andrew and his friends are “devastated.” 

“They’re thinking of staying back a year, which we’re trying to convince them not to do, just because they want that last experience,” she said.

“He has been pre-approved for his college of choice and he’s just devastated and doesn’t know what to do.”

But if COVID-19 persists or a second wave of the virus returns, he could miss out on two graduation ceremonies in a row.

Andrew Leal is considering doing an extra year of high school and turning down acceptance offers to college so he can attend a graduation ceremony. (Submitted by Isabel Buzdon)

The cancellations are just as hard for parents.

“It’s sad. You help your daughter get through all her school years and it gets to this point there’s this big celebration and now she won’t get that milestone,” Shanna Brown, Madison’s mom, said.

“It’s frustrating. This is something you don’t want to see your kid go through.”

This comes after athletics, proms, banquets and similar events were also cancelled this year.

“This was a difficult decision to make but it was a necessary one for the safety of all, made with guidance from public health officials,” read the board’s statement.

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