Niall Jensen, left, and Aidan Kozubal, valedictorians for this year’s Nanaimo District Secondary School’s 2020 graduating class, and their fellow grads will read words of wisdom written for each of them by residents of Berwick on the Lake seniors community. (CHRIS BUSH/News Bulletin)

Vancouver Island high school grads will receive words of wisdom from senior citizens

Residents of Nanaimo’s Berwick on the Lake writing letters to Grade 12 students for graduation

Nanaimo seniors are hoping to impart their wisdom on Nanaimo District Secondary School seniors, who are seeing graduation celebrations curtailed due to COVID-19.

Cap-and-gown ceremonies for Grade 12 students across Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools will be scaled down and prom and dry grad events cancelled because of coronavirus restrictions. Liana Appelt, NDSS principal, and Tracey Hunter, Berwick on the Lake Retirement Community active living manager, decided to do something to brighten students’ spirits.

Appelt said seniors at Berwick will write letters to the students, empathizing with their disappointment, congratulating them on their accomplishments and telling them that they have a lot to look forward to.

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“[Students] are isolated from their grad, [Berwick residents] are isolated from their families, but they also have a message to share that I think only that demographic really can share with kids,” Appelt said. “We can tell the kids all we want, there’s many exciting things in life, but they can’t really see that … it’s really nice to hear it from somebody who’s lived a lot of life.”

Hunter said Berwick seniors were more than happy to take part and have a wealth of experience.

“Some of the letters have talked about moving through life, overcoming obstacles and hardships, but not letting it take you out of the game and just to carry on and move through it and learn from each lesson that you experience as you go forward and try to stay positive,” said Hunter.

Ken Williams, a Berwick resident who said he’s never seen anything like COVID-19 before, wishes the student he is corresponding with well with the next stages of life.

“I urged him to carry on with his education and I pointed out, I don’t necessarily mean you have to go to university, there’s nothing wrong with trade schools or other special schools that you can get in to…” Williams said. “And then I give a little advice about his personal life. You should always be honest and straightforward with people. And I encouraged him to listen to other people. I said, ‘You can learn a lot just by listening to people,’ and picking up what people have to say. If you associate with good people, you’ll pick up some pretty good advice that will help you in life later on.”

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Graduation ceremonies for NDSS students will be spread out between June 22-24 in order to adhere to provincial guidelines, said Appelt.

“Our grads are doing a commencement ceremony that’s staggered and so they’re going be be essentially crossing the stage in the presence of family and friends, but nobody else,” said Appelt. “So the thought was they pick up their diploma, they cross the stage and on the other end will be a nice personalized letter that they can pick up from a senior in our community, just putting the whole COVID thing in context and creating that link.”

The ceremonies will be recorded on video and spliced together to create a commemorative keepsake for the grads.

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