Grade 12 students at Springbank Community High School celebrated a week’s worth of festivities from May 30 to June 3 as part of the school’s “graduation week,” which culminated in their convocation ceremony and a formal grad banquet on June 4.
According to graduation coordinator and Springbank Community High School instructor Tara Ong-Padilla, the festivities began as a way to celebrate the school’s Grade 12 students following the lifting of public health restrictions that were imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last two years, we had drive-thru grad, and so we thought we needed to do something for those kids,” she said. “Last year, we started this tradition of the week-long celebration leading into the actual day of graduation.
“We just loved the energy that it put in the hallways for the Grade 12s, but also for the rest of the school.”
Ong-Padilla said the celebrations kicked off with an opportunity for students to come to school donning their grad hoodies on Monday.
Thereafter, students dressed in their grad gowns and tuxes to school on Tuesday, coinciding with the school’s graduation rehearsal. On Wednesday, students once again had the chance to dress in formal wear or fancy dress.
“The energy in the building and being able to celebrate was appreciated by everybody,” Ong-Padilla said.
On Thursday, students attended a “‘Til Next Time” or “TMT” assembly, which aimed at passing the torch on to next year’s graduates.
“[TMT] is when the Grade 12s retire from the bleachers and we pass it on to the Grade 11,” Ong-Padilla said. “And there’s some high-flyer awards, [including] who’s most likely to be the prime minister, and who’s going to be the one still living at home.”
She said the awards also included some of the teachers in categories such as who had the most style, and which teacher was the “mom” of the year.
Finally, Friday was an opportunity to get ready for graduation, including photo opportunities in front of a sign outside of the school building.
The graduation ceremony held on Saturday took place at WinSport Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, including a morning commencement as well as an evening banquet.
“That was just your traditional event where we had the students in their cap and gowns,” she said. “We walked down the stairs along the red carpet and they got into their seats.”
She added the program included speeches from Rocky View Schools Ward 5 Trustee Judi Hunter and school principal Darrel Lonsberry, as well as notable alumna Abi Strate, who graduated in 2019 and won the bronze medal as a member of Team Canada at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games for ski jumping.
The grad ceremony also included an emotional tribute to the four Springbank students who were involved in a fatal motor vehicle collision that claimed the lives of two last summer.
“[Strate] was our guest speaker and of course we paid tribute to the girls that we lost in the accident [last] summer,” Ong-Padilla said.
“In the evening, it was just your typical banquet, where we had dinner and a little bit of a program with a toast to parents and toast to the teachers that moved into a dance.”
School valedictorian Kaelen Hunter also presented at the convocation ceremony. In an interview afterward with the Rocky View Weekly, he said he felt that the school has really come together to host a traditional graduation event in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s quite remarkable how much we’ve come together,” he said. “All throughout high school, those different groups and social barriers – as we’ve come into the last couple of months of our high school – just stop existing and everyone’s friends with one another and everyone’s putting in hard work to ensure we have an incredible grad.
“And as that came around, holy moly was it incredible.”
He said his favourite part of the week-long Grad Week celebrations was the banquet, which he felt was enjoyed by all, along with a safe after-grad celebration hosted by a few parents, which also went smoothly.
“You know grad parties can get quite out of hand, but it was handled quite well,” he said. “Everyone had a really good time and I think that’s probably going to be the highlight of many in our graduating class.”
He said because of the pandemic, students missed out on large parties and celebrations, which after some time became unfamiliar to most of them.
“With everyone pitching in, giving their own ideas and bringing a bit of an identity to what would make our celebration and grad memorable, helped quite a bit,” he said. “We’re all just together and celebrating and being a part of this community – it's really incredible.
“It’s just been a fun ride. I’m glad COVID ended soon enough that we were able to have that. I feel like it’s been very important to all of us.”
Ong-Padilla said graduation from high school provides many with a sense of accomplishment, adding she has been organizing grad celebrations for more than 15 years.
“For me as a teacher, it’s important to celebrate all these milestones,” she said. “We are in a little bubble out here in Springbank and I consider ourselves pretty fortunate – these students are pretty phenomenal.”