Beyond being a teacher, husband, father, and mixed martial arts fighter, Ray Gowlett of Richards Landing, Canada, is a problem solver.
Ray is a physical education teacher at Central Algoma Secondary School. This year, most of their classes were remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One day, Ray was talking to his daughter Sadie, who was set to graduate with the rest of her senior class. The school was planning to have teachers hand-deliver diplomas to each student’s home, but Sadie asked her dad if she could receive hers on a nearby outdoor stage instead.
“I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do that. No problem. Is there anybody else who would like to receive their diploma on the stage?'” Ray said. “And she said, ‘Yeah, everybody would like to get their diploma on the stage.'”
Moved, the creative dad got to work to make it happen — not just for his daughter, but for all of the graduating seniors! He spent about six hours one weekend building a portable stage that he could tow behind his truck. He then got approval from the school, and they eagerly agreed to help make his mobile graduation mission a success.
“It’s such an important rite of passage for so many people. … It was almost like the first win that we’ve had in a year and a half after being beaten down — just bad news after bad news,” Ray said. “We finally get to do this one thing that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives and is super cool and super unique.”
Over the course of two days in late June, Ray traveled over 250 miles to give 72 graduates their big moment!
Joël Lamoureux was one student who received his diploma on the portable stage. His mom, Krissie Lamoureux, said the experience felt relaxed and easy while still providing an important photo opportunity for this milestone in their lives.
“There was no rush to it,” Krissie added. “They made sure everybody was able to get up and have their photo taken with them. They allowed them to have their little bit of glory, which was important.”
“It was extremely personal,” she continued. “It’s really hard as a parent to watch your child graduate from a distance and not be able to really be a part of anything.”
All of the students were grateful to Ray and the school for creating a safe way to celebrate their accomplishments. As for Ray, the experience is one he’ll always cherish.
“I don’t think I’ve been a part of anything like that before in my life,” he said. “Every family was just so excited — they were so grateful that they had a stage to walk across. It was so meaningful.”
This is such a brilliantly simple solution to an all-too-common problem in the midst of the pandemic! With a little bit of hard work, Ray was able to give each student a memory they’ll treasure forever.
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