Saskatoon’s public high school students are being asked to adapt after learning their schools will no longer be putting on traditional grad banquets starting next year.
Cody Hanke, principal of Centennial Collegiate, spoke Thursday to grade 11 students at the school about coping with sudden changes.
“I had a conversation with them about traditions,” he said. “And how traditions are a bit like threads — sometimes when they break, the fabric of the cloth still has got some integrity and is strong.”
That conversation came hours after the city’s public high schools decided unanimously to stop hosting grad banquets.
Costs to families were highlighted as a major factor in the decision.
“We’re about making sure that we’re inclusive,” Hanke said. “When grad banquets are increasingly becoming more exlusive, that’s the time we sat down to say ‘we need to look at this.'”
Large amounts of staff volunteer time spent on the events and issues around security and safety were also cited as reasons for the move.
The letter also noted many families are now opting to hold their own celebrations where more family members can take part.
Hanke said roughly 20 per cent of eligible graduates didn’t attend Centennial’s grad banquet last year. At some city schools, as many as half of eligible graduates don’t take part.
“Many are opting not to participate already. Having said that, the costs of that experience are only going one direction and that’s upwards,” Hanke said.
While schools won’t be hosting grad banquets, Hanke said they are encouraging students to organize their own replacement celebration, such as a tea or a prom.
“Traditions aren’t like a rope that bind the hands of change,” Hanke added.
Hanke pointed to existing after-grad celebrations already put together by student and parent committees as a possible example of how events could proceed without schools being directly involved.
“Each school community now has a new opportunity now to sculpt what happens next,” Hanke said.
Hanke said he thinks students will take the news in stride once their immediate emotional reaction dissipates.
He said fellow educators have told him that’s largely what happened in Regina when schools got out of grad banquets in 2015.
While they won’t be dealing with grad banquets anymore, Saskatoon public high schools will still hold cap-and-gown ceremonies to celebrate grads’ academic achievement.
“Walking across the stage is one of those things that we all hope to experience in life,” Hanke said.
Students say they were blindsided by decision
Michael Lovett, a grade 11 student at Aden Bowman Collegiate, said he had no idea any change to grad banquets was being contemplated until the decision was announced.
“I was sort of surprised they were taking (grad banquets) out because we hadn’t really been talked to prior to this.”
He said he’s not convinced anything will change aside from ticket prices as parents or students organize events themselves.
“People are going to be funding it through their own pocket and I feel like it’s going to result in a lower turnout for grad banquets,” he said. “For some people, it’s going to hurt their high school experience because this is something a lot of students look forward to.”
Erica Deans said she had been looking forward to a traditional grad. Entering high school last year, she said she already had her sights on a dress to wear for the special day. Now, she said those dreams are in limbo.
“You’re missing steps in your life,” she said of the shared experience. “My mom went to go pick out my sister’s grad dress with her and she’s going to be upset if she doesn’t get to do that with me.”
‘Just as good if not better’ if parents organize
Some parents are already looking ahead to ensure their children still get a special day for their grad.
Christopher Moore’s daughter is in Grade 11 at Tommy Douglas Collegiate and will be part of the first class affected by the Saskatoon Public Schools decision.
“I was initially upset, I felt like it was a time-honoured tradition,” he told 650 CKOM.
However, after thinking about it throughout Thursday, Moore came to a conclusion: the parents can create their own committee and do it their own way.
“Whatever it is that takes place, with the kids that go, it’ll be just as good if not better than what the school was putting together,” he said.
“It’s a little more of the people, for the people than from the school board.”
Moore said after hearing the news, he began researching how Regina has dealt with schools withdrawing from the organizing process. He noted parents set up funds for kids who don’t have the financial resources to take part in a grad banquet.
He fondly remembers his grad banquet and is committed to making sure his daughter also has a memorable experience.
“If that’s what she wants, absolutely.”