By Patrick Meagher
KEMPTVILLE — Kemptville College’s last agricultural diploma graduating class felt the bitter sweetness of completing a year to remember. They are the widow graduates with no students to come after them.
There were no first-year agriculture students on campus this year. But a much quieter residence allowed for deeper friendships that were not about to end on the day the college graduated 91 students, including 36 in the agriculture diploma program.
After the bagpipes, the cap and gown parade past friends and family behind smartphones and cameras, and the walk across the stage for their diplomas, more than 50 graduates headed to fellow graduate Taylor Burt’s Woodlawn farm, west of Ottawa, for a campout.
Ag grads and dairy farmers Lucas Bauman of Elmira, Dan Stadelman of Green Valley, and Sam Mcdonell of North Lancaster, parked their camper on campus for graduation May 22 but the school’s “last shebang,” they said, would be the party that night.
Dan Sargent, a dairy farmer from north of Bowmanville, was also there. He won’t complete the herd apprenticeship program until next year but “came up just for this. There’s no residence next year. There will only be 50 or 60 kids on campus.”
“Ninety-eight years of educating young adults and here we are folks, at the end of an era,” valedictorian and agriculture graduate Brianna Dracup told about 400 people gathered at the college’s W.B. George Centre for the graduation ceremony.
She recalled a year punctuated by hot debates over the best tractor brands, tie-stall versus freestall and genetic dairy cows versus production dairy. “Who would have thought that Kemptville would give us such strong debating skills?”
Graduating with an agriculture equipment technician diploma, Benjamin Karek of Brantford told Farmers Forum that everyone is hoping “something will happen” to keep the college alive. “Everyone wants that. It’s a shame. I’ve been able to grow a lot myself here.”
A day filled with hopes and hugs and wide, teethy smiles was a stark contrast to the following week when more college staff emptied desks and left behind their life’s work. While there were about 80 staff at this time last year, including instructors, administrators and maintenance workers, there are now only 20. That number will climb to about 30 in the fall for the last year of four programs: dairy herd apprenticeship diploma, ag and heavy diesel equipment co-op diploma, horticulture technician co-op apprenticeship diploma and the 12-week level 2 horticulture technician apprenticeship.
There will only be 60 students on campus in September and the student residence and cafeteria will be closed. A college representative said the college dairy herd will be trucked to a University of Guelph research facility.
The local township of North Grenville continues negotiating with the province for the keys to the campus