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F.P. Walshe school Class of 2020 stages memorable grad

Graduation was never going to be “normal” for the F.P. Walshe school Class of 2020.

With classes shut down since March by the pandemic and instruction moved on-line, and with rugby and other spring sports seasons cancelled, their Grade 12 year was already disrupted.

With provincial guidelines restricting the size of public gatherings due to COVID-19 it looked like there was no opportunity for a proper send-off for the Class of 2020.

Staff refused to quit on the students in their final year and organized a unique “drive-in” grad ceremony for Friday night.

“It really, really is nice to be with you tonight,” assistant principal Randy Bohnet said. “Needless to say this grad will be a little different, nevertheless it doesn’t mean it will be less memorable.”

“In fact it might be the exact opposite. It might be more memorable.”

The grad ceremony was held in front of F.P. Walshe school on the east side of the building, rather than in the gymnasium.

Class of 2020 members were allowed to bring one vehicle filled with family and friends to park in a designated space in the parking lot.

They remained in their vehicles until called to the stage to pick up a package containing their certificate, awards and letters of congratulations from dignitaries who under normal circumstances would have been present.

Staff members served popcorn, ice cream and drinks drive-in style. Signs with the photo and name of each student were placed on the lawn.

The actual “gathering” of staff and guests totalled about 30 people who observed social distancing requirements.

“I would like to acknowledge staff who have worked tirelessly, with a lot of angst, to create this — something special for you to remember,” Bohnet said, mentioning grad adviser Nony Orr, Chris Baxter, Kim Biesheuvel, Shirley Lyness and Wendy Jensen and the rest of the staff.

“Pulling this off has not been exactly easy with ever-changing regulations almost daily,” Bohnet said, asking for forgiveness for any errors or omissions. “It’s territory we’ve not been down before.”

“We sincerely want you to know how much we care for you and wanted to provide you with something special.”

One of the guests who was in attendance was former F.P. Walshe school drama and English teacher Duane Piper, who was invited by the grads to be guest speaker.

Piper gave a high-energy, humorous speech that began with him running the length of the parking lot to initiative a “wave” of honking from the parked vehicles.

Piper, who was known as Duane Petluck when he taught at F.P. Walshe, opened by urging the grads to thank family and friends for supporting them through the years.

Piper noted the Class of 2020 spent their Grade 7 and 8 years at G.R. Davis school while F.P. Walshe was being renovated.

“It’s a school you can be proud of, a school you should be proud of,” Piper said of F.P. Walshe. “Walshe is a very special place. But I’m going to tell you today it’s not the bricks or the foundation, the cafeteria, the smartboards, the pencils in the ceiling — you are what makes Walshe special.”

“All of the magic in this place comes from the people — the friends that you have made, the staff who took care of you — that’s the magic. It takes a community to do that.”

Piper urged the grads to thank their teachers and school staff for setting them up for success in the face of challenges such as the pandemic.

In a speech dotted with memorable moments of his time with the Class of 2020, Piper urged the grads to be kind to others, in the knowledge that kindness will come back to them.

Piper also told the grads to cherish the memories they have of people and events while at F.P. Walshe, but to make sure they create new memorable moments.

Piper told the grads Dino Scavo, one of his best friends and a teacher at F.P. Walshe, is in Calgary hospital undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

Scavo through Piper sent congratulations, best wishes and a message of the importance of resilience to the Class of 2020.

“Just like Dino does, I care so much for you,” Piper said. “I love you all like sons and daughters and I’ve missed you over the last three years, but I knew you’d be okay.”

“There’s big things that are going to come from this group of people and like Dino said you’ve already learned one of the most valuable things a young person can learn — resilience.”

Piper told the grads to remember their family, their friends, their school and their community to help them get through life.

“Know that whatever life throws at you, you will fight and you will get stronger through every trial.”

Another former staff member, principal Stirling Paiha, was also on hand to speak to the grads.

“This school and the students at this school, and this grad class in particular, you’ve really got under my skin in a good way, in a way that means a lot to me,” Paiha said.

Paiha praised the Class of 2020 for making it through the pandemic to graduation, noting they have strength, determination, resiliency and character.

“What you accomplished to get to this point says everything about you,” Paiha said.