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In the coming weeks, many students across Atlantic Canada will celebrate a milestone achievement: high school or college graduation.
And while COVID-19 has traded tradition for something unfamiliar, parents, teachers, and education leaders have imparted plenty of sage advice for graduates to push forward through adversity.
P.E.I. Minister of Education Brad Trivers said challenges could be opportunities.
"The graduates of 2020 are the future leaders, and I have great faith they will be key players to find innovative solutions to overcome the challenges that we face," said Trivers.
He acknowledged there is much to learn from the pitfalls of the past to eradicate racism, strive for equality, and invest for the long-term.
"What is clear to me is that despite the challenges of health, climate change, and society, the future holds massive opportunity," he said.
"My advice is to focus on the things that they (graduates) do have control over, be thankful for what is certain, and use their plentiful talents, intelligence, and energy to forge a new and better future. The best things in life are simple, and love is free to give and receive."
He stressed the importance of education, to not worry about the path others are on, to finish goals, be generous, kind, give more than one receives, build on relationships, and strengths.
And, "do not sell yourself short. There is so much to achieve if you have the confidence to pursue it."
Strength and resilience
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said he is proud of Grade 12 students for the way they have adapted in the last few months.
"You gained strength. You learned to work through difficult situations. You have proven you are resilient. These are the skills that will stay with you as you take your next steps in life," said McNeil.
"I have confidence that you are ready to do whatever you choose to do. You have an opportunity to help shape the future of this province, and we need you. We need your voice. We need you to help make a difference not only in Nova Scotia but around the world.”
And, he reminds them, do not forget what happened this year.
"You are the Class of 2020. Be proud of that and build on it. As you go out into the world, give back, give love, and always be kind. On behalf of all Nova Scotians, congratulations! We are all proud of you."
Minister of education in N.L., Brian Warr, said adversity makes us stronger.
"See uncertainty and adversity as opportunities: Opportunities to re-evaluate what is happening in your life and your community. Accept and embrace change and focus on being your best self," he said.
Warr noted the invaluable importance of health, wellbeing, family, and friends.
"Take advantage of the extra time that you have now to plan and prepare for your education and set goals for your career. Life never truly has a perfect moment, or when those moments happen, they are fleeting. Be present at this moment, and relish what it offers. Use this opportunity to appreciate what is before you."
Success in one's work and personal life requires effort, said Warr. There are no free rides.
"Everyone needs to work towards a goal. It is essential to create a picture (in your mind) of what you want to achieve and want to become. That will help you focus on the things that truly matter,” he said.
"Things might not go as you had planned through life. Do not let those moments cause you to lose focus on your dreams. Learn from these moments and carry on. Most importantly, treat everyone with respect and kindness.”
Nova Scotia Minister of Education Zach Churchill said the pandemic is a lesson in adapting, rolling with the punches, and learning resilience.
"Our Grade 12 have taken on many challenges, such as being away from their social gatherings or attending regular school. With so many students being able to adapt, persevere, and graduate, that should be a lesson that they can handle whatever life has to offer," said Churchill.
"Some situations in life will be out of your control, but if you can control your reaction to it and perspective, and adapt your behaviour accordingly, then you will do well."
Be kind, help others
President of the P.E.I. Home and School Federation, Cory Thomas, said volunteerism is a great way to enhance skills and help the community, and urged grads to help others.
"Many people are struggling, whether it be financially or finding childcare. Many sports organizations are starting up and need volunteers. By volunteering, you are developing important skills that will enhance your resume,” Thomas said.
"I believe studying or working in a field that makes you happy has been vital to me. But, be patient with your career, education, and experiences. There will be bumpy roads along the way. Keep focused and build on experiences, volunteer, learn new skills, and work hard.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, a new normal will need to be redefined, he added.
“Some things may fully recover; others will change,” Thomas said. “Regardless, we will learn from this unprecedented time and alter our actions and attitudes to make our lives better, stronger, and happier."
Making it special
Sarah Charlton, a parent and teacher at Colonel Gray in Charlottetown, P.E.I., worked diligently with colleagues Suzanne Lee and the entire high school family to make graduation special. On June 23, the ceremony will be at a drive-in theatre. Other high schools across the East Coast will mark graduations in unique ways as well.
"As an adult, I have come to acknowledge how much of my success and happiness is rooted in the work ethic, humility, kindness and encouragement of the people around me – my parents, other family members, friends, teachers and neighbours,” Charlton said.
"They provided a bedrock in which I was able to pursue my dreams, because I knew I was unconditionally supported. Throughout my life, I am reminded of the importance of feeling connected and how others can make us all stronger," she said, while acknowledging fostering hope, perseverance and resilience to her children and students.
"I think that when we feel supported and have gratitude that we can live fuller richer lives."
Last year, Charlton had a class of Grade 10 students who were passionate about the environment. They planted saplings and on each had an old proverb that read: A society grows great when citizens plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.
"If we all made it our life's goal to consider and care for others, and work towards the greater good, we would feel more content, connected, and fulfilled,” Charlton added.