Celebrating our Class of 2020 safely

Class of 2020 June 17 celebration

It was a night of nights. After more than three months of Google Meets and Zoom calls, and occasional social distance drive-by visits, the Class of 2020 at last gathered together again in June, for one special night at the drive-in to celebrate the end of their time at UTS, and say goodbye.

The excitement was contagious, smiles were wide and even through everyone was required to stay with their own vehicles to maintain physical distancing, it was wonderful to see everyone together again.  

Community celebration

Earlier this spring, the Class of 2020 had chosen to postpone their official graduation ceremony for a time when they might be able to get together in person to celebrate the occasion.

But UTS administrative staff decided that after the senior year the Class of 2020 had experienced, the graduates deserved something extraordinary to celebrate the end of their time at UTS. “We were inspired by a conversation with a parent and reached out to rent the drive-in,” said Garth Chalmers, UTS Vice Principal. “The momentum grew from there.” The entire community came together to create a special occasion for the Class of 2020, including the UTS Alumni Association (UTSAA) and the UTS Parents’ Association (UTSPA), ending with movie night at the 5 Drive-In Theatre in Oakville.

“We feel for the Class of 2020 and how they missed out on the last part of their final year with their friends and teachers at UTS,” said Garry Kollins, UTS Head of Student Life. “We couldn’t let them leave without saying goodbye and giving them a very special send-off.”

Drive-in magic

Photo credit: Lee Akazaki P ’17, ’20

at drive in event

The gates opened in the early evening, and soon the cars and vehicles began pulling in, decorated with celebratory messages like “2020 Grad on Board” and “Great job, Class of 2020.” The sounds of happy honking and shouts of joy rang out. The S6s waved at each other while standing in their vehicles, skylights or sitting on the front (or back) of their vehicles.

We will miss you!
Messages from staff

The movie was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but the pre-show was the real star of the night, starting with DJ music from UTS Director of Music Mark Laidman (also a health and physical education teacher) who had everyone dancing in or on their cars (as much as possible!).

As dusk fell, the Grad Coordinators kicked off the pre-show on the big drive-in screen, which began with a message from UTS Principal Rosemary Evans, who said: “This has been a year of many challenges, more than many generations of UTS students have had to face. I find the words of Martin Luther King Jr. inspiring and hope that you will as well. ‘We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.’ My hopes for each of you are indeed infinite.”

Impressive well wishes from teachers and staff followed, including a rap from Physics teacher Shawn Brooks.

Video messages of hope
from alumni

UTSAA President Mark Opashinov ’88 welcomed the students to the alumni association, larger than life on the giant drive-in screen: “You’re one of us now,” he said. “Even though these are uncertain times, our community is one thing you can count on for help with your endeavors. Wherever you go and whatever you choose to do, you will always be a UTS grad.”

Illustrious alumni far and wide shared their video messages of hope, from the Mayor of Toronto, Hon. John Tory, OOnt QC ’72 to the likes of Nobel Prize winner Michael Spence ’62, and from far away places such as Brazil, where Jennifer May ’86 is the Canadian Ambassador.

Kim’s Convenience star Simu Liu ’07, who is in Australia filming as the lead in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, told the students that he is living proof they can achieve their dreams, urging the Class of 2020 to “pursue them, unapologetically and purposefully.”

Actor/writer/director Winsome Brown ’90 said, “In this moment of isolation, you can find a new kind of joy that springs from inside yourself, and this will be a tool that will last you the rest of your life. It’s essential for us to kindle our own fires, and there’s something about this moment that is encouraging that in all of us.”

This year has made us stronger

“We cannot be truly experienced sailors if we have not yet faced the rough seas,” said valedictorian William To-Dang (he is co-valedictorian with Ivan Kwong), adding that this tumultuous year had made the Class of 2020 stronger and able to appreciate “what really matters.” Messages from Co-Captains Mia Richmond and Andrei Comlosan-Pop, and a slideshow celebrating the Class of 2020, rounded out the pre-show.

Graduation surprise

The drive-in event made for a spectacular end to a day that began with a most brilliant surprise.

Starting in the early hours on a gloriously sunny day, UTS staff including Principal Rosemary Evans, the senior leadership team and administrative staff – fanned out across the Greater Toronto Area to personally deliver personalized graduation signs and a gift to the members of the Class of 2020.   

“I woke up this morning and saw the post on social media, went down and saw the sign was there on my front lawn,” said Flavia, who lives in Mississauga. “I love the hoodie!”

Every student received a welcome note from UTSAA, along with a duffel bag, phone wallet and sweatshirt as a token of our community’s appreciation for their tremendous accomplishment of graduating UTS. (Thank you, UTSAA, for generously funding the graduation signs, duffel bags and phone wallets, and UTSPA for the stylish sweatshirts, with a contribution from UTSAA.) 

“It was really nice to see, given the fact that we missed out on a lot this year,” Flavia added. “It made me feel like I’m still a part of UTS.”