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School district may ditch graduation ceremonies in name of ‘equity’

Better for those ‘who have been, and are currently, underserved by the education system’

Ottawa, Ontario’s largest school district is considering doing away with graduation ceremonies and replacing them with commencements — all in the name of equity and inclusion.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board proposed policy defines “commencement” as “a celebration of student achievement that includes all students, including those who have been, and are currently, underserved by the education system.”

According to the policy FAQ, the rationale for the change is “students have diverse educational journeys, and all students’ diverse experiences should have the opportunity to be celebrated, including those who have historically faced challenges within the education system, both in the past and in the present.”

It goes on to say “At many schools, students are leaving with a range of accomplishments, and all are included in graduation ceremonies. The proposed changes to the policy would reflect these current practices.”

A commencement ceremony is more “inclusive” and “aligns with the Board’s larger commitments to [DEI].”

Student awards will still be given, but “will be reflective of the [district’s] commitment to learning, equity, engagement and innovation [and] will be inclusive of all pathways, cover a wide array of achievements (not strictly academic), celebrate a wide variety of aspects of student experiences and talents, and not be gender-based.”

Due to logistics concerns, some awards may be given at a “separate ceremony” other than the commencement. Just don’t call it “graduation.”

The Canadian national anthem will remain at commencements, as will the “sharing” of Native American land acknowledgements.

Western University’s Jacqueline Specht, director of the Canadian Research Centre on Inclusive Education, told the Ottawa Citizen that schools already invite students who aren’t getting diplomas to graduation ceremonies such as those with special needs.

“It’s a good thing,” she said. “As our understanding of people changes, so do big traditions. And that’s OK.” However, Specht did caution schools not to give every student an award “just to be charitable.”

“People can tell. We either give awards and we give them honestly and truthfully, or we don’t give them at all.”

MORE: University drops math as graduation requirement as it mulls new diversity requirement

IMAGES: Shutterstock.com; Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

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