It was June, 1982, but Thom Wells still remembers everything about one of Vernon Secondary School’s longest-running graduation traditions, the picture of the grad class on the steps of the Vernon Courthouse.
Twenty-nine years ago, Wells was one of a grad class of more than 500 as VSS was the only high school in Vernon in 1982.
Thursday afternoon, Wells was across the street from the steps, on the sidewalk above Justice Court Park, watching his daughter, Kyla – VSS Class of 2011 – pose for the courthouse photo.
“Our class took up the whole steps and I was standing up there by the light post,” smiled Wells. “We took up every last step. There’s Kyla, in the front row. I’m extremely proud of her but it’s kinda scary to watch this unfold 29 years later.”
Kyla’s class consists of just under 200 graduates, including Kirsten Zachary, whose father, Terence, was also part of the Class of ‘82.
Vernon Secondary keeps a picture of all of its grad classes hanging within the walls of the soon-to-be-replaced high school. The photos, however – including the Class of ‘11 – will be added to the new school slated to open in 2014.
“I saw my dad’s courthouse picture up in the hallway at school and it’s cool to see his picture still up there and now mine will be up there too,” said Zachary, who plans to take some time to think about what she wants to do with her future. “I’ve been really looking forward to the picture. I can’t wait to graduate.”
Kim Heizmann and Darrell Wedeen were part of a group of about 100 parents, grandparents and friends who were on hand to document the courthouse photo.
Heizmann was there to see her first son, Kalvin, be part of the photo just like her husband Tony was back in 1981.
“It’s so exciting and I’m very proud of Kalvin,” smiled Heizmann, a Vernon realtor. “Tony thinks it’s pretty neat his son is graduating from the same school and doing the same picture, and that the pictures will be in the school.”
Wedeen’s daughter Shanna was, according to dad, calm, cool and collected about the start of the graduation festivities for VSS.
“The weather could be better for the photo but it’s a great day,” said Wedeen, who was getting set to video the big moment. “This is such a great tradition. I can’t believe she’s graduating. She’s only 17, she’s still so young.”
A major part of the tradition is the official photographer, former VSS teacher Wayne Emde. He’s been snapping the VSS grads on the courthouse every year since 1979, missing only two.
Want to know how important the event is to Emde?
“I was in Glasgow yesterday and came back for this,” said Emde, undeterred by Thursday’s rain.
“It’s been windy before but I can’t recall ever having any moisture to contend with. But it will be fine.”
With help from the VSS staff, Emde puts the grads through a dry run of the photo at the Wesbild Centre. Just after 2 p.m., four school buses containing the VSS Class of ‘11, park behind the courthouse, and close to 200 beaming grads in blue and white caps and gowns make their way to the courthouse steps with supporters applauding, and horns honking.
The event is such a big part of the community that the RCMP gladly block of 27th Street between 32nd and 30th Avenues for 15 minutes to allow the photo to be taken.
After Emde announces the picture is done, the grads remove their tassels from their caps and fling the caps into the air.
“Today feels amazing,” said graduate Kyle Vriasinga, who spent fives years in the hallowed halls of VSS and is contemplating getting a helicopter license next year. “It’s incredible after all these years to be able to graduate. It’s nice that they keep doing this picture. It’s crazy to think they’ve done this for 43 years straight and we’re the 44th.”