High school grads in Listuguj, Que., weren’t able to walk across the stage to receive their diploma or celebrate prom with their classmates this year, but the Mi’kmaw community in the Gaspé Peninsula marked the milestone with banners, parade, and a special gathering.
This year, 23 students from the community graduated from Sugarloaf Senior High School across the Restigouche River in Campbellton, N.B. The COVID-19 pandemic not only cancelled the school’s prom and moved the graduation ceremony online, but access between the two provinces has also been restricted.
“Our students attend school in another province; we haven’t been able to cross that bridge at all. There’s been a lot of limitations when it comes to the community itself,” said Bobbi Madahbee, enhancement manager for Listuguj Education, Training and Employment.
“To show the community our graduates and have them recognized, we decided to put some banners up.”
The banners were installed on utility poles throughout the community. Chief Darcy Gray and education staff hand-delivered diplomas to each graduate at their home after the school’s principal was unable to cross the bridge into Quebec.
“It was really upsetting that we didn’t have our official walk across the stage, prom together with all of our friends across in New Brunswick, but I’m really thankful for the community coming together,” said graduate Ivy Grenier.
Listuguj usually holds a banquet and parade for all its high school, post-secondary, and adult education graduates. Madahbee and her team organized an additional special gathering on Listuguj’s powwow grounds this year in lieu of a prom for the Sugarloaf seniors.
“All these kids ordered all their dresses and paid lots of money for them. Well, that’s sad they’re not going to be able to wear them. What if we plan our own thing?” said Madahbee.
The event had to get approval from the community’s Unified Command, which handles pandemic response, and required guidelines that included physical distancing measures and each graduate was allowed three guests who live in the same household.
“We all had a really good time,” said Grenier.
“Even though we couldn’t bring a date, we still got to bring three other family members to the prom and we all had our little stations. It was really nice, and I’m glad that we got to have it.”
Amy Chamberlin, whose son Je’gopsn Metallic was among the group of graduates, echoed similar sentiments.
“He really loved it. He’s been going to school with some of the kids since Head Start; it was really meaningful for them to be able to celebrate together,” said Chamberlin.
“It felt good to celebrate them and at least that they got to experience part of it even though it was a little bit different. They’ll have those memories with each other… But, what we missed was having the extended family there, too.”
Her mother-in-law Eunice Metallic said she felt a little left out of the festivities due to the guest restrictions but was happy she got to be there when her grandson’s diploma was delivered. Metallic put up posters on her own lawn of her two grandchildren who graduated this year.
“I’m very proud of my grandchildren,” said Metallic.
“They got a lot of individual attention that they wouldn’t have got if they graduated in Campbellton. It seems like it worked out better for them.”