Montreal ER staff celebrate surprise grad after ceremony canceled due to coronavirus

Students at schools and universities across the country have had to miss out on convocation ceremonies since the coronavirus outbreak, but thanks to her coworkers, one Montreal nurse has a meaningful grad memory.

For the last four years, Natalie Champagne has worked harder than she’s ever known. On top of being a mother to four young children and working full-time as a nurse in the emergency room of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Champagne decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

“It’s something I put on hold because I had my family, and then I finally said ‘this is something I need to do,’” Champagne said from her home in Sainte-Catherine. “I just feel it’s important to keep up-to-date with the newest information to provide care that is up-to-date.”

In 2016, Champagne enrolled online at St. Francis Xavier University. She stole moments at night and on weekends to study, relying on her husband Thomas for help.

“It could be a bit hectic at times but we made it work as best as we could,” Thomas Wildgoose said.

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After four tough years, Champagne’s graduation ceremony was scheduled for May 3 at the university in Nova Scotia. She had done all her courses online and had never actually visited the university. She had planned a celebratory, week-long East Coast road trip with her mother, with a pit stop to visit her college and attend her graduation ceremony. She was looking forward to receiving her cap and gown.

But the coronavirus shattered that dream trip.

“I was quite disappointed because obviously, I had looked forward to this for a few years. It was something I always wanted, to physically graduate,” Champagne said.

Her colleagues at the Children’s Hospital felt terrible for her. They had seen her work so hard, pursuing her degree.

They consider her like family. So they did something a family would do.

On Sunday, May 3, they surprised her by throwing her a graduation ceremony of their own, inside the ER of the hospital.

“We went around and put paper rolls on the stretchers, we said, ‘this will be your diploma,’” said Sophie Lacoste, an assistant nurse manager at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “We really forgot about what was going outside, all the stress everyone is going through.”

“It made us smile and have fun and brought us all together.”

For just a few minutes, with a homemade cap and gown, Champagne celebrated in the ER.

“It was heartwarming, it just makes you realize how important it is to be kind to one another, to enjoy one another, to make the most of everything you got,” Champagne said.

It certainly wasn’t the graduation ceremony Champagne had dreamed of, yet in many ways, it was better.

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