Jim and Tricia Lorraine, owners of RiverBreeze Farm and RiverBreeze CornMaze, have proposed to host a socially distant graduation ceremony for CEC students this year. If approved, the ceremony would be across the road from the cornmaze and its other features, pictured. Submitted photo

UPPER ONSLOW – A local farmer and his family is hoping to be approved of a plan to offer high school students a graduation ceremony.

Jim Lorraine and his wife, Tricia, own RiverBreeze Farm. Their daughter, Eryn, was set to graduate from Cobequid Educational Centre this year. But with the coronavirus pandemic cancelling school for the remainder of the year, that also cancels prom and graduation. They’ve made a proposal to host a drive-thru ceremony, socially-distant of course, on their property.

“There are so many young people that are hurting right now,” Lorraine says in a video shared to social media about the proposal.

In the video, he mentions the tragic loss of graduating student Emily Tuck in the mass shooting in Portapique last month. His daughter’s friend, Mia, also lost her father and stepmother in that shooting.

“But there are so many young people hurting right now, whether it’s that or losing a loved one to COVID-19, or the very fact that young people are social people, they’re used to socializing and now they can’t go see their friends,” said Lorraine. “They’re basically told now your best friends are your mother and father.”

He said students need some sort of normalcy in their life, and they need to see the community step up to make a memorable event.

“This is a time when these young people need to be shown that 12 years in school didn’t end with a letter in the mail receiving your diploma. It’s something more special than that. It shows that the community is thinking of you and shows that we are indeed Nova Scotian strong, and stronger together.”

With an entertainment portion to the family’s farm, Lorraine says large parking lots are available. He and his family have reached out to the high school’s principal, Bill Kaulback, with their proposal.

If approved, Lorraine said it would involve building a stage with gravel from their own gravel pit.

“Our proposal was to allow every student and their immediate family to show up in their cars,” he said in the video, adding they would provide security so those cars would be spaced 10 feet apart.

He says Kaulback would be waiting on stage and each graduate would have the chance to drive onto the stage to receive their diploma. Kaulback and the valedictorian would be able to conduct their speeches on the same stage. Lorraine says they’d reach out to Eastlink to see if it could be live streamed, for other family and friends to watch, as well as a technological company to provide sound to those in their cars, as well as a possible digital screen for better viewing.

Rent-a-john facilities would be available, with staff to clean between each use.

Lorraine says in the video that Eryn has reached out to her friends in her graduating class, and they’ve reached out to further friends. The overwhelming consensus, Lorraine says, is that students want to have a ceremony.

If the province approves the Lorraine family’s plan, he says they will offer their farm to other schools in Colchester County, including the local college and university. The family will also reach out to other farms or drive-in theatres with the idea.

“This is something we could do right across the province,” he said, adding there probably wouldn’t need a lot of effort “because I’m sure there are a lot of community-minded businesses who would step up and pitch in and help.”

Jeannine Doiron Garrett, Mia’s mother, is excited about the idea, says Lorraine. She has created a group on Facebook for graduates and parents of graduates from the school to join. They’re hoping to conduct a poll into the idea.

In the meantime, Lorraine is calling on Nova Scotia’s elected officials – Premier Stephen McNeil, Colchester North MLA Karen Casey, Minister of Health and Wellness Randy Delorey, and Education Minister Zach Churchill – and Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, to review the family’s proposal “and find out a way we can make it work.”

“We have some pretty good thoughts and ideas in there, but it’s a start,” said Lorraine.