Jada Benwell and Connor Larkey are the valedictorians of the 2021 graduating class at Parkland Secondary School. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Jada Benwell and Connor Larkey are the valedictorians of the 2021 graduating class at Parkland Secondary School. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Pandemic taught lessons in perseverance for North Saanich high schoolers

Parkland Secondary School to release 2021 grad ceremony video on June 25

The power of perseverance.

This is the central message, which valedictorians Jada Benwell and Connor Larkey have shared with fellow 2021 graduates from North Saanich’s Parkland Secondary School.

“If we have learned anything, it is to be hopeful that we can do and try anything if we put our minds to it,” said Benwell. A measure of this lived perseverance has been the ability of the graduating class to rise up to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created for students.

Larkey said the pandemic has made their graduating class one of the most involved in recent memory.

This level of involvement has manifested in many ways, he said. Turnout for weekly grad-planning meetings was high and students presented their own ideas, including plans for a formal winter dance, only to see it cancelled because of restrictions on gathering.

“It was very hard to watch all of our efforts being pulled away, but even throughout that, we have done a few grad pranks with the school,” Benwell said. “We have made sure that we met up every chance we got. We watched the sunrise together as a grad class at the beginning of the year and we are going to finish the year with a sunset.”

RELATED: Parkland grads mark end to high school in virtual ceremony

Students have dealt with other challenges, said Larkey, including the introduction of the quadmester system, which sees them complete two courses in each of the four 10-week quarters.

The system deepens the learning experience, but requires adjustments, Benwell said.

“As growing and developing adolescents, not usually do we want to sit for three hours and listen to anyone talk,” she said with a chuckle. But true to the spirit of the class, she sees the upside. “Overall, it might have prepped us for university more. It might be challenging for the younger grades, but I think we adapted very well.”

Both Benwell and Larkey believe attending and graduating from school during a pandemic will give members of this year’s graduating class a competitive edge entering post-secondary institutions or the job market.

“This pandemic has taught us to be resilient, if nothing else,” said Benwell, who will leave Sidney to study neuroscience at the University of Dalhousie in Halifax in pursuit of a medical career. “We have actually learned to teach ourselves. That will be very valuable later in the workplace.”

Larkey, who is also pursuing a medical career while staying much closer to home by studying at the University of Victoria, said the quadmester system has taught this graduating class unique skills.

“Going into university and such, having these fast, strict classes in such a short period of time, has caused us to not necessarily maintain the highest grades,” he said.

“But be better students, for sure,” added Benwell.

The school will release this year’s graduation ceremony video on June 25, having filmed it on May 20.

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