Like many students around the world, those at Central Algoma Secondary School (CASS) in Ontario, Canada, have been learning virtually for over a year. They’ve missed out on major high school events, such as prom. However, Ray Gowlett, a health and physical education teacher at the high school, was determined to give his students the graduation day they deserved.
Although they couldn’t have a public event, the high school graduates were still able to walk across a stage to receive their diplomas. This wouldn’t have been possible without their beloved teacher. Gowlett spent six hours building a portable make-shift stage and then spent a further 12 hours driving 400 kilometers (almost 250 miles), stopping at the homes of all 72 students.
The idea came when Gowlett’s daughter Sadie, who is also part of the graduating class, asked her dad if he could hand her and her friend their diplomas at an outdoor public stage. “I asked, is it important to walk across the stage? And she said, ‘Yes, we really want to walk across the stage and get a picture with our diploma,’” Gowlett recalls. “I said no problem. I can do that. Do you think many more people would want to do that? She said, ‘Everybody would want to do that.’”
Since outdoor events are limited to 10 people, Gowlett couldn't bring every student to a public stage. The dedicated teacher started brainstorming on how he could provide a proper graduation, all while adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines. “I just started thinking, ‘Well, how can I get a stage to every student's house?’” he says. “And then the idea just occurred to me to build a mobile stage and bring a teacher to each person's house.”
After reaching out to his local community, Gowlett was able to obtain the materials he needed to make the stage. He created a wooden backdrop that folded up and down from a trailer, which acted at the stage floor. Gowlett used black fabric and the CASS school colors and logo to decorate the stage.
TikTok user Leashorlando shared the moment one student walked onto the stage to receive her diploma, dressed in a single-use gown. Many people commented on the video, highlighting how amazing Gowlett’s efforts are. One TikTok user wrote, “This man deserves an honorable award ASAP. He has no idea how this will be remembered by every one of these grads.”
Gowlett doesn’t take all the credit, though. The humble teacher says the entire grad community deserves recognition, too. “This was a full school staff effort,” he says. “I was lucky enough to have the idea to build the stage, but it absolutely would not have worked without the 20 people behind the scenes doing all the paperwork and coordinating the setup and the takedown.” He adds, “The school has such a long, rich history of going above and beyond for students that it just totally wasn't out of character for all of the staff to do what they did.”
Watch one student’s personal graduation moment below.
This teacher built and transported a mobile stage so that each of his 72 students could walk across it on graduation day.
@leashorlandoHow was your grad? ##graduation ##pandemicgraduate ##teacher ##teachertikok ##northernontario ##highschoolmemories ##casshuskies ##congratulations♬ Spongebob – Dante9k