The grads of 2021 have had a roller coaster of a year. There were times it looked like there might not be a school year at all and by the end, the chance to celebrate was so close – but not quite there. We chatted with Argyle Secondary School graduates on the year and the challenges of being the class of 2021.
As this year’s Grade 12s approached September they knew the script would be rewritten. They watched the grads of 2020 have their worlds turned upside down. The class of 2021 knew it would be a year of resilience, adaptation, and reimagination.
“Last year it was taken away suddenly,” said Mika Diebolt, an executive member of the grad council. “I think we went into the year prepared it would be different from what we were expecting.”
Students had a big education shift this year, gone was the usual schedule replaced with two classes each day, and the year divided into quarters. Students were kept in cohorts to reduce contacts and to limit social interactions. Depending on the grade there were differing levels of in-class and online instruction. The situation made learning intense.
“There were perks to the quarter system,” said Georgia Keir, co-president of the Argyle grad council. “It’s a chance to stay engaged in topics and explore them more. It was nice that we didn’t have to juggle as many classes and to focus, but if classes were a struggle it was really easy to get lost and the consequences of falling behind were bigger.”
For grads, the final year of high school is a combination of building community and polishing applications for post-secondary schooling. The typical volunteer jobs and community projects that fill out university applications were put on hold.
“I started a community project on female empowerment before covid,” said Diebolt. “We couldn’t carry out our plans but we were able to keep going with virtual events and panel discussions – it was excellent, I was able to develop skills I didn’t have like learning technology, working a network and how to bring people together for social connection when we were apart.”
Fellow grad Lynn Choi similarly had plans for social outreach.
“My friend and I created a project to support the Downtown Eastside with essential care packages,” she said. “We had to change our goals a bit. We transitioned from us directly distributing the care packs to finding good partner organizations and adapting to the work they were already doing.”
As for school, they didn’t know what to expect. The initial response of the administration was to pull back on all extracurricular activities, said Choi.
“We faced challenges like organizing student government,” she said, co-president of the Grade 12 class. “We had to talk with the administration, find sponsors, and then find ways to get it all going.”
All three students agree the staff and administration were very supportive in the school.
“We see teachers who are 20 or 30 years into their careers and they are also learning something completely new. The shift to focus on academics, I think, paid off,” said Diebolt. “We had opportunities we wouldn’t have like in my law class, having professional lawyers, prosecutors, and judges present lectures.”
And they were grateful for some in-class instruction, knowing that some districts didn’t offer it to Grade 12 students.
“There was a lot of support from administration,” said Keir. “Our feelings were validated, it wasn’t about any particular assignment or test, it was about keeping us engaged and helping us to be ready for next year to do whatever we choose.”
With restrictions on gathering, clubs, athletics and activities took the biggest hit. Many did not happen at all this year. It was particularly a challenge for students hoping to achieve athletic goals in the final year, said Choi.
“I have been a part of the Argyle Cheerleading program for four years,” she said. “I was lucky to be captain. We couldn’t stunt or have any contact. It was a challenge because that is kind of what cheerleading is about: teamwork. As a captain, it was hard to create an environment where everyone felt safe and supported because we couldn’t do those bonding games that establish a connection.”
As the year unfolded the grads of 2021 saw many of the milestones and celebrations that take place in the final year and create a sense of camaraderie passed by unmarked.
“My sister graduated when I was in Grade 10, I saw what their year was like,” said Keir. “It was full of fun events that brought the class together like the banquet, winter formal, prom – I was so excited to be a part of that I bought my prom dress in Grade 10 – so I was ready for this year. But it didn’t happen.”
Diebolt echoes those feelings.
“When I was younger we would see the Grade 12s and they had such a strong sense of community. Dress up days, all the special events. And we have had them in a way but building a community has been harder with fewer classes, friends aren’t around as much and there weren’t the chances to create that bond in the same way.”
Instead, the class is pleased there are ways to celebrate. The graduates will be walking across the stage in small groups to receive their diplomas. The speeches and other ceremonies along with the walk across the stage will be recorded and edited together into a longer ceremony. Parents are busily organizing a car parade which takes place Tuesday, June 22 at 7 pm. For Diebolt, Choi, and Keir there will also be small family celebrations. They have busy summers before starting at UBC and Queens universities.