North Grenville DHS graduates, like Rory Matheson, had an opportunity to take a quick photo outside their high school.

by Robert Matheson, Special to the North Grenville Times.

Despite a difficult academic year, more than 100 local students persevered to be named Ontario Scholars. They, along with other graduates, were celebrated by North Grenville’s two main high schools last week during pre-recorded commencement ceremonies and drive-through events.

School officials were quick to acknowledge the hardships that this year’s graduating class had to endure. Extracurricular activities, such as sports teams, were non-existent. Students took two condensed courses at a time instead of the four in a typical semester, and spent large parts of the year learning online.

“One day I hope you look back on this and recognize what you went through now is part of world history,” UCDSB Trustee Lisa Swan told graduates of North Grenville District High School. “This was not the grade 12 year you were hoping for, but you persevered and made it.”

Despite all the setbacks, students found ways to adapt. They still found ways to volunteer, work, and show leadership. North Grenville District High School principal Derek Cole praised his graduates’ important role in the community during the pandemic.

“Many of you were the essential and front-line workers that kept our community going. You stocked shelves, worked at the checkout, pumped gas, and delivered food and so much more,” Derek said in the school’s commencement video posted on Facebook last Thursday.

“The class of 2021 met the challenge of these unique and unprecedented set of circumstances that left the community in awe of their ability to adapt again and again,” he added. “They are worthy of our thanks and admiration.”

Derek and other NGDHS school staff were able to thank and congratulate many of the students in person last Friday. Students signed up for “drive through” time slots that allowed them to pick up their graduation gifts and don their caps and gowns for a brief outdoor ceremony. Parents were able to take photos and videos from the comfort of their vehicle.

St. Michael Catholic High School graduates also signed up for time slots last week to visit the school. They were allowed to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas in front of a small group of family members. At the end, grads and their families were able to take a group photo inside the school.

“In the current circumstances, I feel that the grade 12 community was very fortunate to have the opportunity to walk across the stage at school. Although it was not in front of close friends or family, it was still a happy experience to be able to actually receive my diploma on stage, in front of my parents,” said Katelyn McGahey, who was the valedictorian at St. Michael.

Katelyn’s address was part of the St. Michael ceremony that was released online to students and families on Sunday. It celebrated the achievements, leadership and volunteerism of the school’s 122 graduates, including 55 who earned high enough marks to be named Ontario Scholars.

“Today’s celebration would normally be a time to reflect on all the memorable experiences our grade 12 year has provided us with,” said Katelyn, who injected humour and memories in her speech. “Whoever said senior year is the best year of high school clearly did not meet COVID-19.”

Katelyn, who will attend the University of Ottawa to pursue an Honours Bachelor of Science in Nursing, tried to impart some words of wisdom to her fellow graduates during her recorded speech. She reminded them that marks are not a measure of one’s worth.

“A grade does not define you as a person. You are not a piece of paper,” she said. “As long as you work as hard as you can and put your heart and soul into all of your goals, I know success is waiting for you to grab it.”

Several other St. Michael’s students were recognized during the ceremony for their achievements this past year. Sierra Vergette was presented with the the Governor General’s Medal and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario Bursary for Academic Excellence during the ceremony.

Other major awards at St. Michael’s went to: Victoria Williams, The Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Volunteerism; Filanie Olotu and Lillie Wilson, Graduating Athlete Award; Madison Chretien, Janet Cassidy Memorial Bursary; Melanie Beres, The Patrick J. Maloney Memorial Bursary; Emily Caicco, The Founder’s Award.

North Grenville DHS’s video celebration saw photos and achievements presented to 140 graduates, including 58 who were named Ontario Scholars. More than $25,000 in bursaries were given out to graduating students at North Grenville DHS.

Zakary Berkelaar was presented with the Governor General’s Medal for the Highest Overall Achievement. He also shared the Principal’s Award for Leadership with Jake Adjeleian. Other awards of distinction at NGDHS went to Owen Reuber, The Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario Volunteer Award; Tristan Delport, the Dr. O.F. Beamish Award for Achievement; Alicia Rogers, the North Grenville Top College Award; Gold Pins were presented to Bridget Craig and Kevin Streight.

The NGDHS ceremony was capped by the valedictorian address given by Samantha Kimball, one of the school’s many Ontario Scholars. Samantha won three awards for academics and community service and was presented with the Garnet Baker Memorial Bursary because she plans to pursue her education in Environmental Studies. She praised the achievements of her fellow graduates during her speech.

“Graduating high school in a normal year is no easy feat, but with everything we’ve been through this year, graduating is made that much more impressive,” she said. “I’m proud of everyone who made it this far and you should be very proud of yourselves.”

“As cliché as it sounds without the larger events grade 12 would have offered, we really were given the chance to appreciate our small victories,” Samantha added.


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