Building a new kind of graduation – literally

Ray Gowlett

Two weeks before graduation at Central Algoma Secondary School, physical education teacher Ray Gowlett’s daughter and best friend asked if he could deliver their diplomas on a local outdoor stage, hoping for some semblance of the storied tradition.

He of course said yes and asked if others would want the same. The teens said many would.

But with COVID restrictions in mind, he thought of something: what if he built a portable stage and drove it to each of the 70 grads’ homes?

The reaction was unanimous: every grad committee member, administrator, teacher and local business he needed help from was in.

“How lucky am I be part of something like this?” he asked.

As Gowlett spent 10 hours building the stage that would hook to a truck, while every family was contacted about the plan. Dozens of staff volunteered for the two-day event and the route was plotted.

They went door to door from 8-8 on a Saturday and 7:30 to 7:30 Sunday, bringing the same enthusiasm at the end that they had at the start.

Every student got the send-off they deserved, walking across a stage in front of their families and getting their diploma.

“What stood out the most was how powerful every single stop was, the smiles on every single grad’s face,” he said, though refusing too much credit.

“It almost makes me uncomfortable, it’s like, no, this is my team.”

And speaking of team, some of the proudest moments came from those who had graduated long ago.

“A lot of our alumni were reposting it and saying, this is exactly the high school that I remember, the staff who would always go above and beyond.”

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