After I moved to Estevan in September 2000, it didn't take me long to realize just how important grad celebrations are to a smaller community.
I'd looked through old editions of Lifestyles, and I saw the 2000 Estevan Comprehensive School grad special. All of these photos of the Class of the New Millennium, sponsored by local businesses.
I covered grad for the first time in June 2001. The old Civic Auditorium was nicely decorated and packed with family members and friends eager to witness the ceremony.
The grads were dressed in their finest clothes. Some found different ways to arrive at the event, whether it be a limousine or a horse-and-buggy tandem. And once it was finished, they all gathered at the school for the annual chem-free after-grad, when they played games of chance at a mock casino in an effort to win play money that could be used to purchase real prizes, items that no doubt would prove helpful in the future.
The merchandise was supplied by local businesses, which again reflected the community support for the grads.
I also remember that it was an insufferably hot day in Estevan for Grad 2001, likely north of 30 C. The Civic didn't have air conditioning. And this was when grad still stretched on for hours. It might have gone three hours from the time of the entry to the end of the presentation of diplomas. After a break, when a meal was served, you had a grand march and a dance.
Thankfully, the Comp. has done a great job of trimming the ceremony over the years, and the event is now more efficient and I would say enjoyable.
The significance of grad and support from so many are a similar refrain in other small communities that still have a high school. Grad is a big deal. Yes, the day is about the kids who are wrapping up their Grade 12 studies, it's about parents and family members who have been there throughout the process, it's about teachers and staff who guided them, and it's about having this celebration with friends.
But those in smaller communities also often feel a sense of pride when graduation day comes along, perhaps a reflection of the old adage "it takes a village to raise a child". The village wants to celebrate.
I find grad at ECS and elsewhere to be very different from my graduation. My alma mater, Langley Secondary School, was one of several high schools in Langley City and Township. Our graduation was nice, but it was the day for the grads, parents and the school. With so many schools in the area, you weren't going to have the larger community as a whole coming together like you do here.
We had our ceremony, took pictures with our friends and then went on our way. There were some parties leading up to grad. If you were part of a group, you had a celebration. And then there was a grad banquet and an all-night party after we wrote our exams.
One of the local papers published a special insert with our photos, but they included all Langley schools.
But I didn't feel the community being there for the grads like I do here, which should be expected. It's one of the big differences between living in a big city with lots of schools and living in a small city with one high school, or a smaller community with just one school.
This year's grads have been through a lot. Their Grade 9 year was cut short due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were back in the classroom for Grade 10, but it was very different from normal, thanks to restrictions that changed how everything happened, from classes to attendance, extracurricular activities to sports, clubs to lunch.
This year and the latter part of Grade 11 were closer to normal.
And the community support has grown. In 2020, when there wasn't a ceremony, there was the ECS grad cruise, when the kids rolled through town in vehicles to the delight of those who gathered. The following year, it was modified to the grad parade, which appears to now be a tradition.
The parade is not only that extra chance for the grads to be together on grad night, but for the community to salute the kids.
Hopefully, grad is everything they imagined it would be, and a time to remember for all the right reasons.