By Margaret Miller, a longtime Creston Valley resident
It’s June. Graduation month. A special time to honour those students who have reached educational milestones.
Here in Creston Valley, graduates of Kootenay River Secondary School and Homelinks will gather to celebrate the completion of high school studies. At colleges, institutes of technology, and universities outside our valley, thousands of capped and gowned graduates will be honoured before they transition to new careers, further study, or research endeavours. Others who have completed apprenticeships or online studies should also be celebrating their achievements.
Last week, I attended an out of town university convocation – a proud parent sitting among hundreds of others to see my daughter receive her bachelor’s degree. It was a feel good occasion for everyone – graduates, staff, family and friends – since we knew those being honoured had completed tertiary studies under difficult circumstances. The smiling cap-and-gown group I saw cross the stage began their degrees before the pandemic. All completed demanding course loads through COVID-19, some with the added responsibilities of part-time work or parenting.
As these students coped with an unpredictable new virus and the public health mandates necessary to manage it, their campus lives became an on-again, off-again experience. The first year, for those who completed a four year degree, was almost normal. In-class learning took place until March, then classes were cancelled and a new world order began. Summer employment opportunities were limited. Second year? Virtual classrooms, Zoom lectures sometimes in pyjamas (camera off!), and team projects completed online. Third year? A mishmash. Fourth year? A return to the old face-to-face days for the final, almost-there academic push.
Creston’s 2023 grads understand this difficult learning journey too, as do their hard working teachers. Scientists warned for years of the possibility of an epidemic, but for most of us it was the stuff of fiction. When this year’s Kootenay River Secondary School (KRSS) grads entered Grade 8 in 2018, the shock waves of a pandemic was not what they were contemplating. Those thirteen-year-olds were more likely considering the possibilities of new courses and friends, sports competitions, field trips, and drama performances or the freedom of lunchtime strolls downtown.
Then early in 2020, the education landscape changed. Those same students, like millions of others around the world, were forced to navigate the challenges of distance learning and greater self-direction and – when they returned to the classroom – cancelled sports and extra curricular activities, altered timetables, reduced social interactions and uncomfortable masked learning. And stress. No doubt, it was difficult for all students and particularly challenging for some.
Early last month, the World Health Organization declared the worst of the pandemic was over, so in many ways our lives can now return to what they were before the health crisis. Creston has seen a return to popular community events, such as the Blossom Festival, and to public performances and concerts. Thankfully, KRSS will now be able to celebrate student achievements at the upcoming graduation ceremony on Friday, June 16.
As Grade 12 students exit our local school system, I wonder about those who’ll enter it this fall, specifically the five-year-olds who’ll make up the 2036 Grad class and perhaps go on to graduate from colleges or universities in the 2040s. What type of world will this new generation of learners face and will our education system evolve to meet their changing needs? What new technologies will be available to assist their intellectual and creative growth? What careers and research initiatives might entice these graduates, some who may live to see the 22nd century?
But why contemplate 2040s graduations in 2023? It does sound a little like a futuristic movie: “Graduation Log: Star date June 2042.” But that decade is only one generation away and, like all forward thinking countries, Canada should prepare wisely for it. One of the best ways to prepare for the future is to invest in learning. In our increasingly complex and rapidly changing world, it would be foolhardy for any nation to cut corners when it comes to education.
My congratulations to all Creston graduates and to the families, teachers, and support workers who helped them along the way.