Who could have predicted that carefully chosen formal clothes would be replaced by “avatars” in leggings, toasting each other and dancing to “Dancing Queen” on a virtual stage, just three months ago?
Despite not being together in person, the collective admiration and warmth made it through the home screens of 300-plus audience members who “attended” Branksome Hall’s first-ever Virtual GY 2020 Celebration on May 26 at 1:30 p.m.
“When the little avatars started singing ‘Keep Well the Road,’ I lost it!,” says Heather Friesen, Head, Curriculum Innovation & Professional Learning.
Summoning much ingenuity, Director of Technology and Innovation Michael Ianni-Palarchio and his IT team—collaborating with students, guest alums, staff and faculty—worked with an immersive platform allowing pre-recorded video to be embedded on screens in an online auditorium, complete with audience seating and various points of view, a podium and a platform party.
Throughout the ceremony, each speaker acknowledged the uniqueness of the occasion and saluted the students for their resilience, particularly during the last few months.
“Each of you has surprised yourself by digging deep and drawing on strengths you never even knew you had,” said Principal Karen Jurjevich in her opening remarks, delivered live with an on-stage avatar. “Your time at Branksome has prepared you well, the IB has prepared you well, and we are confident that you will continue to grow and learn no matter where life takes you.”
Outgoing Head Prefect Elaine Lee and Valedictorian Jade Mair Douglas toasted the class in avatar form and also offered video messages. “Our memories will connect us no matter where we go,” said Lee.
Deputy Principal Karrie Weinstock quoted a woman who knows a thing or two about resilience, Oprah Winfrey. “Never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion, energy and hope,” Weinstock quoted, adding, “You will go down in Branksome history as the class who dealt with the challenge of this global pandemic, and this makes your experience truly unique.”
At the ceremony, a video featuring best wishes and goodbyes from staff and faculty was also shown. The video in its full form can be seen here.
Keeping a special tradition alive, the GY gift this year was the establishment of the “Class of 2020 Emergency Needs Award,” totalling more than $41,000 to date. GY Reps Caroline Logush, Sarah Kent and Hope Rutledge worked with parents Katharine and Kilian Berz and Maria Smith and Eric Tripp to champion this initiative.
President of the Branksome Hall Alumnae Association, Karen Cordes Woods’99, spoke by video to introduce a congratulatory message from Sarah Levy’04, star of Schitt’s Creek.
Finally, Assistant Head of Senior and Middle School Kim Knaiz invited all the new graduates on stage for another Branksome first—a celebratory dance party. “I know how much this group loves to dance,” she said.
The festivities were capped off with a post-ceremony Zoom celebration with graduates, staff and faculty. Graduates and their families are looking forward to an on-campus graduation at a date to be determined.
Congratulations to our Class of 2020! Here is the complete list of 2019-20 award winners:
Jade Mair Douglas
The Slogan (Senior Editors):