Graduation ceremony for college seniors up in the air – literally

Briercrest College and Seminary varsity volleyball team seniors may not have been able to walk the stage at their graduation ceremony like they expected, but a small act of kindness from their flight attendants meant they still got a very special graduation experience.
Photo by Paige Reimer

Rebecca Garner though she would walk on stage for her college graduation in April, but with COVID-19 cancelling events world-wide, she never expected having a grad ceremony on her WestJet flight home at 40,000 feet instead.

“It just meant a lot to us and that they were willing to, in this time where everything’s pretty chaotic, they were willing to put that aside and show us kindness, that was the part to us… that stood out the most,” said Rebecca Garner, a  senior on Briercrest’s team who was on the flight.


While the athletes and their coaches were flying home from the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) national championship in Quebec they learned of their schools closures and changes to the rest of the school year.

“Yeah, it was pretty tough,” said Garner.

“We finished our tournament the Saturday and then the Sunday was when we were traveling home and… school had, literally within the past 12 hours, school had been canceled and was switching to being online. We knew our grad wouldn’t happen in April because all the kids had to be sent home … and it was just a lot to take in.”

As the team and their coaches were flying home with the news that their graduation ceremony would not be happening that spring, they started up a conversation with some of their WestJet flight attendants.

“We were just chatting and then our chaplain, she decided to mention that our grad was going to be canceled or postponed … so we wouldn’t get our college graduation at the end of this year,” said Garner.

“And [the flight attendants] … were both shocked and then their faces lit up when they realized that they should throw us the graduation.”

The flight attendants got napkins for the four girls to write their degrees and school on and then called each one up the plane aisle to accept their handmade diplomas. One of the mothers on the flight took a video of the event and posted it to her social media. A couple weeks after, the video already had 236,000 likes and 1.3 million views.


“I’m just happy that this video is bringing light to people’s days” said Garner.

“I feel if I was a graduate looking at that, I think I would feel valued as well. So, it’s not even just for us, it was for everyone [and] it can spread that positivity.”

The COVID-19 virus that has drastically affected the world continues to affect colleges and universities across Canada. Michael Pawelke, Briercrest College and Seminary president, comments that the decision to postpone graduation and close the school was not an easy one.

As schools world-wide are having to be shut down due to the COVID-19 virus, graduation ceremonies are having to be cancelled as well. However, for a few Briercrest College and Seminary seniors, their graduation ceremony still happened. Only their’s was in a plane. Photo by Paige Reimer

“As things were ramping up very quickly … We decided to act quite quickly”, said Pawelke. “And so, our decision to close the school, or at least to send students home from their dorm living, that was made quite quickly and quite abruptly.”

“But we fully appreciate that it was very disruptive and, frankly disappointing, for students to not be able to finish their year the way they would like to. And of course, graduation had to be postponed. And so, the decision was made quickly. But we believe we made it in the best interests of the students.”

Universities and colleges across Canada have had to make similar changes to their institutions as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, and with it comes a lot of unknowns regarding student’s education.

“I think what was encouraging for us was certainly, first and foremost, that there was a good news story, amidst a whole lot of darkness,” said Pawelke. “It also was just a really affirming and encouraging news story because it was promoting the fine work and character of our students.”

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