UPPER ONSLOW, N.S. -- With graduation season coinciding with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, there is a movement underway to give Colchester County's graduating class a ceremony to remember. The gesture comes at an especially difficult and unusual time as students are feeling the effects of an international health crisis, while also dealing with the fallout of Canada's deadliest mass shooting. However, despite a series of unfortunate events beyond control, the community is uniting to help students celebrate their final high school days in a big way.

With the school year finishing in June, an empty parking lot in Onslow, N.S., is a field of dreams for Colchester County's graduating class of 2020 – a dream many are hoping comes true.


Grad proposal

"We propose having the graduation here in our parking lot," says farmer and parent, Jim Lorraine, who is offering his 20-acre parking lot for the celebration.

The invite-only event would feature a drive-in style ceremony and would see each grad celebrating while parked in their respective vehicles alongside their families. Keeping physical distancing in mind, each vehicle would be parked eight feet apart – with security on site to ensure public health guidelines are followed. Additionally, there is also a big screen and a stage in the works for each grad to walk across.  

"That was our original thought," says organizer, parent, and Jim's wife, Tracia Lorraine. "They would get out and pick up their diploma on the table, and get back in."

Following a mass shooting in their province, that wish became so much more.

Celebrating during hard times

"My best friend, along with many other people, lost family and friends in the shooting," says graduating student, Eryn Lorraine. "It's been a terrible year, but I know we'll come through it stronger."

Eryn's best friend, Amielia McLeod's father, Sean, and his partner, Alanna Jenkins, were killed in the mass shooting in April.

"It would just mean the world to me – the other grads too – if we could get this graduation," says McLeod.

If McLeod gets the chance to mark her graduation, she knows what she will be thinking about.

"Just that I did it," says McLeod. "I know he's proud, and I know my stepmom would be proud too."

Remembering lost classmate

The ceremony would also include a musical tribute honouring graduating student, Emily Tuck – who unfortunately won't be there.

Tuck, who was a part of the class of 2020 for the Cobequid Education Centre, died in the mass shooting. Organizers say a ceremony would make all the difference to her classmates. Now all they need is permission from Nova Scotia Public Health.

To be determined

As of Saturday, the proposal remains in the hands of the provincial government, with organizers hoping to hear back by early June.

"When this comes together, and we can make it happen, it will bring us so much closer," says Eryn. "It will go down in history for this is what we went through, this is what we came together for, and we made this happen."

Organizers say community support means there would be no cost involved to the school or students. Additionally, if the provincial government approves their idea, they say the memories gained will be priceless.