The “beautiful Maya” Gazzard and her mother Lyndsay were treated to a virtual graduation ceremony last week, as Maya leaves her days at Royal Oak Community School behind her, and looks forward to entering Laura Secord Secondary School in the fall.
Maya and Lyndsay had about 30 family members and friends from around the world, including Ireland, Bermuda and across Canada, with them on Zoom to celebrate Maya’s Grade 8 graduation, organized by Royal Oak’s head of school, Julia Cain Murray.
Royal Oak is a small, not-for-profit private school, with small class sizes. Maya moved there from Crossroads in Grade 4, where she was suffering from anxiety made worse by bullying. This was only the second year the school has had a Grade 8 graduation, and Maya was the only one in that class.
Murray began the graduation ceremony with a quote she said was perfect for the times, and perfect for Maya.
“We are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm,” the quote said.
The boats have been harboured, added Murray. “We could never have anticipated four months ago that we’d be planning a virtual graduation.”
Maya and Lyndsay “have been navigating some particularly turbulent waters” recently, said Murray, telling Maya she and others at school have seen her grace, humility and beauty through all of this.
Tony Gazzard, Lyndsay’s husband and Maya’s father, passed away in February, and Maya is going through a year of “difficult firsts,” missing her father and dealing with his loss, especially on occasions such as her graduation, says Lyndsay.
Having a supportive team at school, who also were quickly able to help arrange for counselling for Maya when she moved to ROCS, was helpful for her and Tony, who weren’t sure what they could to do help their daughter, she says.
Crossroads did what it could, but working with the public school board was slow, and when Maya was finally offered counselling, the counsellors kept changing, said Lyndsay.
“This school has worked miracles for her, helping to build up her confidence and self-esteem,” she said. “We were very appreciative of all they have done for her.”
The school has always encouraged the buddy system, older students pairing up with younger kids to help them, which Maya loved, says Lyndsay.
The move to online classes has also been a smooth transition, she said, with teachers touching base with students daily, trying to provide a normal, although virtual, school environment as much as possible.
“Teachers have been virtually there for her,” says Lyndsay. “They’re keeping in daily communication with their students.”
Royal Oak has also welcomed students from the public school system into their online classes, she says.
Her time at ROCS gave Maya the confidence to audition for the performing arts program at Laura Secord, and she is really looking forward to starting high school. When they went to check it out, she loved what she saw and heard at the open house, including other students telling her how great the school is.
“She suits it perfectly, with the artistic side as well as the academic.”
In talking about Maya at her graduation, Murray made it clear she will succeed at whatever she puts her mind to.
She told Maya she met her as a little girl, “mature beyond your years,” with an emotional maturity not often seen in adults. “You understand difficulties make us stronger and better,” she said, describing Maya as a “really kind, caring, sensitive, empathic girl who is not afraid to be herself, and who really appreciates and expects the same of others.”
A slideshow of photos during the virtual ceremony, a beautiful song by Maya herself, and a gift that included a “silly” graduation hat and a grad certificate was handed to her by her mom, along with a necklace with an oak acorn.
Maya came to Royal Oak as a sapling, and grew to be “a mighty tree,” said Murray.
“There is going to be a big hole where your sparkle and shine was,” she told Maya, asking her to come back and do her high school volunteer hours at the school.