Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Back to School in Fort McMurray: Grads Get Prom, Others Return to Counselling

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Back to School in Fort McMurray: Grads Get Prom, Others Return to Counselling

Article excerpt

Fort McMurray grads go back to say goodbye

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EDMONTON - Brynne Wood tries on her sparkly, champagne-coloured princess gown and smells a hint of smoke.

The dress was left hanging in an alterations shop in downtown Fort McMurray when a huge wildfire spread into the northern Alberta city in May.

A dry cleaner did the best it could to get the stench out, says Wood, who is excited to be finally walking across the stage this weekend to get her diploma.

Four months after the fire forced more than 80,000 residents to flee and destroyed 2,400 homes and buildings, students in Fort McMurray are preparing to head back for another year of classes.

And many of those who were in Grade 12, and had their final exams waived because of the evacuation, are going back to school to say goodbye.

"I didn't think we'd have grad," says Wood, 18, who has since moved to Edmonton where she'll be starting university in two weeks.

Wood returned to her hometown once this summer and was shocked to see several blackened neighbourhoods. Her rental home was left standing among levelled houses.

She had been sitting in social studies class when a voice over the loudspeaker at Westwood Community High School advised everyone to leave because of the fire. She's looking forward to seeing her classmates again for a celebration.

"It will be nice to talk to everyone and know that they're safe."

Her boyfriend, Cole Graham, pulling on a newly rented suit, says he wants to hear what his friends have been up to in the last four months. He has also moved to Edmonton and says it's worth the four-hour drive back to Fort McMurray for the party.

"We didn't spend 12 years not to have one."

School officials anticipate most of the city's 600 graduates are planning to attend graduation -- both a morning convocation and an evening prom -- on Friday for Catholic students and Saturday for those in the public system.

But there are those who have moved elsewhere and those who are too busy settling into dorms and readying for post-secondary classes. …

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