The flight attendants wrote out each student's degree on a meal container lid and handed them out as diplomas
When four senior college athletes got word that their graduation ceremony would be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic while flying back from their national championships, the cabin crew on their flight surprised them with a sweet ceremony in the sky.
The random act of kindness occurred on WestJet flight 655 from Toronto to Edmonton, Canada, on Sunday as the Briercrest College women’s volleyball team were heading home after competing in the 2020 CCAA National Championships.
“Some of the flight attendants found out and decided to help them out and throw them a graduation on the plane,” explains Shae McIntyre, a men’s volleyball player at Red Deer College whose team was also on their way back to school after a match, and who captured the video.
The flight attendants wrote out each graduating player’s degree on a meal container lid and handed them to them like diplomas, along with “barf” bags full of goodies like Kit-Kats.
“They announced their names and degree over the intercom and [the women] received an ovation from the passengers as they walked the aisle to collect their ‘official degree,’” the sophomore recalled.
In the 30-second video, flight attendants can be heard humming to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the traditional graduation march, while calling up each player by name as passengers clapped along. The women can be seen smiling widely as they leave their seats to collect their makeshift diplomas.
Like most colleges and universities across Canada and the U.S., Briercrest and Red Deer College have canceled in-person classes, with the remainder of their school year taking place online. Their sports activities are also on pause.
According to the Briercrest website, the four senior athletes called up for the DIY ceremony were Ashley Erickson, Rebecca Garner, Kirsty Kindrachuk and Elicia Wiebe.
Erickson, who was named the CCAA Women’s Volleyball Player of the Year, told the site that the day was “a whirlwind of finishing our volleyball careers and then that night finding out that school was closing for the rest of the year and we were going to have to do online classes … No grad ceremony, no athletic banquet, everything was an abrupt ending.”
Their team chaplain, Joelle Epp, alerted the flight attendants to the students’ disappointment, and told them what degrees the women were earning when the flight attendants excitedly asked to write them down.
According to the website, the seniors are grateful to have been honored by thoughtful strangers.
“The four of us felt extremely blessed to experience that, and we need to recognize these small acts of kind customer service that make people feel valued and important during times like these,” Kindrachuk told the site. “It was honestly the sweetest act during such a confusing and changing time in our lives.”
They still plan to walk when their postponed graduation ceremony takes place, likely in the fall.
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WestJet — a Canadian airline that offers flights to and from several U.S. cities — recently announced that they would be suspending all transborder (United States, including Hawaii) and international flights starting Sunday, March 22, due to the coronavirus outbreak. This suspension is expected to continue for a 30-day period.
On Wednesday morning, President Trump announced that his administration had agreed with the Canadian government to close the countries’ shared border to most people — except for trade — in response to the pandemic.
On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. State Department raised their global travel advisory to a Level 4 — the most severe — for all international travel, urging Americans traveling abroad to return home immediately.
The Government of Canada has also put a global travel advisory into effect, asking citizens to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.