This teacher built a mobile stage that he took to each of his students' homes so they could have their own graduation ceremony. Health and physical education teacher Ray Gowlett, 48, gave 72 students the opportunity to walk the stage to collect their diplomas after their official ceremony was cancelled. He travelled a total of 400km over 22.5 hours last weekend (June 26/27) with his daughter Sadie Gowlett, 17, to give the students the congratulations they deserved. Ray, from Richards Landing in Ontario, Canada, said: "At every single stop the cheering was unbelievable - they were so excited our school had decided to do that and give them closure. "When I was calling to make sure people would be home I'd say 'I know it's not a formal graduation' and they said 'are you kidding me? I get to stay home with my family have a BBQ, then you're going to show up, take pictures and leave!" Most of the students at The Central Algoma Secondary School in Desbarats had spent the majority of their senior year at home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The province had prohibited all ceremonies, and the students couldn't even go to the school to pick up their diplomas. The school's teachers originally planned to personally deliver the diplomas, but when Sadie asked her dad whether he would hand hers to her on a communal stage in their town, he had an idea. Ray, who graduated from the school himself in 1991, said: "I said who else would want to do that? I would gladly do the same for them, and she said everybody would want to. "Then I started having these visions of 100 people showing up and I was like I'll get in trouble for that, and from there I thought how can I get a stage to every kid? "I asked her was walking across stage an important part of process, and she said of course everyone wants to walk across that stage. "It occurred to me what if we built a mobile stage and went to everyone's house!" Recruiting the help of local businesses, Ray got together the parts needed to build a towable stage that he could drive to the pupils' homes for individual ceremonies. He said: "I went to friend's dealership who sells trailers and told him what I wanted to do and needed a trailer, he didn't even let me finish my sentence - just said take the one you need!" The teacher, who has worked at the school for 21 years, built the fold-away stage, decorated with ceremonial flowers, in just six hours. He even blew up a 4 x 5ft picture of the school's hook rug that had formed the background of every graduation picture for 50 years, to have as a backdrop. A crack marketing team started a viral campaign online to spread the word about the plan and, just a week and a half later, Ray and Sadie hit the road. Ray said: "The lead vehicle would arrive ten minutes before the stage to get the graduate gowns going and give gifts to students and get them ready. "Then the stage would drive up and the friends and family and everybody was out on the lawn and excited. "The teachers would go into action and the whole stage would go from being from packed up to ready in 60 seconds. "I would go around my truck, put on my jacket, fix my tie and get into character!" Ray would meet a teacher from that area who would present the student with their certificate in a ten minute ceremony that gave all their loved ones plenty of time to take snaps. The crowd for each graduation was limited to ten people and each student wore a single-use gown in order to adhere to COVID protocol. Ray said: "It was one of the most incredible things I've ever been a part of. "On Saturday night at about 4pm it started raining hard, I'd made a canopy for the stage in case it started raining but there were still people standing outside in the rain and no one bat an eyelash. "Everyone was soaked through and through but it was like it wasn't even raining." The father and daughter travelled for nearly 12 hours on both Saturday and Sunday driving to each home, setting up the stage, handing over the diploma, packing up and moving to the next. Sadie received her own diploma only after all the other 72 students Dad-of-two Ray said: "After a month of being told there was going to be no graduation to this, it was awesome. "It was a testament to our school and our staff as we have this really long history of teachers who go above and beyond. "They work so hard to make sure the kids in our area get the things they need and that's what inspired me to become a teacher."
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