In-person Manitoulin Secondary School grad ceremonies a happy event

MSS principal David Wiwchar provides opening remarks.

M’CHIGEENG—It was quite apparent by the smiles on everyone’s faces and the buzz that accompanied the many people, parents, siblings, grandparents and friends, speakers and especially the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) students who were gathered for their graduation ceremonies that everyone was very happy to be able to hold these ceremonies in person this year.

“Before we begin this evening, we would like to invite everyone, who has not had the chance previously, to take a look around at this fantastic gymnasium that has been renovated for the 50th anniversary of the school,” said MSS teacher Mike Zegil, who was co-master of ceremonies for the evening, along with teacher Yana Bauer.

The honour guard, along with piper Paul McDonald, led the procession of graduating students into the gymnasium. This was followed by the MSS band, led by Chris Theijsmeijer, in the singing of O Canada, and land acknowledgement provided by vice-principal Neil Debassige.

“We would like to welcome everyone to the MSS 2022 graduation ceremony,” said Mr. Zegil. “Graduation is always exciting but this is the first time in three years we have been able to have an in-person gathering like this. We are all here to celebrate and honour an incredible group of people.”

Platform guests included MSS principal David Wiwchar, vice-principal Dawn McCann, vice principal Neil Debassige Rainbow District School Board trustees Margaret Stringer and Linda Debassige, and RDSB Superintendent Leslie Fisher.

“On behalf of the RDSB and as a trustee, it is a great honour to be here,” said Ms. Debassige. “The graduating students are amazing, and I bring my bring utmost gratitude, and pride. It is an honour to be here today.” Ms. Debassige represents all of the First Nations communities whose students attend any of the Rainbow District School Board schools.

“I can remember being here at MSS about 20 years ago and being scared because I didn’t want to be here,” said Ms. Debassige. “As graduates, you have all shown tremendous resiliency through COVID. And in the future, you should hold this message with you to never, ever give up, “you have friends and teachers who will be there to help when you need it,” she said, explaining that Neil Debassige had been an influence in her future when she had been a student at MSS. “We all respect who taught us and this support helps with moving forward on your educational and career journey.”

“Grasp those opportunities that will be available for you in the future,” said Ms. Debassige. “Stay positive and be kind to each other. Today is a day to celebrate. Congratulations on your achievements.”

Fellow RDSB trustee Margaret Stringer said, “it has been three long years since a graduation ceremony has been celebrated in person. I am thrilled to be here, I can recognize people here from all over the Island, and their smiles show their love and pride they have for their graduates.”

Ms. Stringer encouraged the students in their  futures, “don’t be afraid of hard work, trust in yourself, be patient and confident.”

“I hope all of you have a life that you will be proud of,” said Ms. Stringer. “Congratulations.”

MSS Principal Dave Wiwchar said, “Good evening graduates, parents, family, friends, community members and colleagues. As principal of Manitoulin Secondary School, I would like to welcome you to our 2022 graduation ceremony. We are pleased that you are here to share in this celebration with us. Mr. Gurney, Mrs. Addison, Mr. Harfield, Mr. Nelson, Mrs. Betsy Debassige, Neil Debassige and Karlene Scott will be leaving MSS and heading on to enjoy their next endeavours and we thank them all for their  kindness, inspiration and connections with so many of our students over the years.”

“Graduates, the best way you could demonstrate your appreciation, to Karlene in particular, would be to respond to the letters from us asking about your chosen field of study or apprenticeship in the fall,” said Mr. Wiwchar. “Other graduation ceremonies fit awards into the evening of grad, but we have so many donors here that a full additional awards ceremony is needed in December each year. Karlene has served Manitoulin schools for over 40 years and we look forward to her continued enjoyment of the December awards ceremony held annually here at MSS and we also look forward to seeing you back with us one evening of the last week of school before Christmas. Come enjoy the generosity of Island donors who are always keen to support our graduates at a critical time financially for those pursuing apprenticeship, university or college programs each year. Their generosity, I suspect, has very much to do with Karlene’s sway with them as she looks out for each and every one of you as she has every single day of her 40 years of dedicated service to education.”

“We would like to thank parents, family members and friends of our graduates for all of the support you have given students and our school over the years,” continued Mr. Wiwchar. “Of course, I would like to extend a special welcome to our very own Mustangs who will be receiving their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD),” stated Mr. Wiwchar. “We hope that you enjoy your graduation and look back on tonight with fond memories.”

Mr. Wiwchar said, “this year, in case you don’t remember, when we arrived in September we couldn’t convene in an assembly, be spectators at athletics or even let students eat on the same side of the plexiglass as their friends in the cafeteria. You have been so patient and accommodating of all of the protocols asked of you.”

“It was a real joy to run the late busses at 5 pm again and see our students return to co-curriculars with enthusiasm and see provincial level successes in OFSSA cross country with our junior girls winning gold, most recently in archery, with a second and third in virtual competition and, earlier in the spring, in robotics,” said Mr. Wiwchar. “In Northern Ontario Secondary School Athletics (NOSSA) our girls’ basketball team made it to finals; both junior and senior girls’ volleyball were North Shore champions. In badminton we were junior NOSSA champs, for tennis our junior girls and senior boys were NOSSA champs. In track and field NSSSA and NOSSA, records were broken by our athletes, with nine of our athletes going to OFSSA where they all set personal bests. It was an impressive year of athletics.”

“You graduates have had an enormous impact on the culture of sport within our school. You and those before you have dedicated many hours to practice within this gym to help contribute to the winning legacy proudly displayed on our walls and in the lives of each of our athletes as they worked for personal bests!”

“As I reflect on the year, some great moments come to mind,” said Mr. Wiwchar. “One was Sean McCann singing in September with Nimkeehns Wemigwans, a powerful story of struggle and recovery with music that lifted and strengthened each of us for our individual challenges this year. May you take with you their message of hope and counsel to talk to someone when things are ever hard in the years ahead.”

“Another great moment was to see group after group of students arrive to our spring formal, our first in a few years,” said Mr. Wiwchar. “The cafeteria was beautiful and over 140 students stayed and danced right to the end. The next, of course, was a massive capture the flag game on the sunniest of afternoons a few weeks ago and now there is tonight.”

“Graduates, thank you for your re-emergence from isolation and virtual interactions to make the most of the year we have enjoyed,” continued Mr. Wiwchar. “I’ve noted a bit of a shift of your attention up and out of your phone screens to enjoy more face-to-face conversations this year. It’s been really good to see and I am sure your summer employers will appreciate your setting phones aside to make the best of the gift it truly is to talk face-to-face with people. Thank you for persevering through the struggles you have managed and making it through it all to this stage tonight.”

“You truly make our days here at MSS, and it is so good to be with you this evening,” Mr. Wiwchar told the graduates. “Congratulations on your years of hard work and growth here at MSS and take with you our best wishes for the future.”

An Honour Song was presented by the M’Chigeeng Ladies Hand Drum Group.

The presentation of Ontario Secondary School diplomas were made by Principal Wiwchar, trustee Debassige, vice-principal McCann and trustee Stringer.

The class valedictorian Eliza Ermilova then presented a speech on behalf of the graduating class.

The list of graduates includes: Larissa Abotossaway, Ceara Aelick, Emily Aguonie, Declan Allison, Guadalupe Anaya, Ryleigh Auger, Jordan Bailey, Alexis Bedard, Trinity Behm, Trent Bell, Jessica Boyle, Liam Bridgeman, Derek Browatzke, Alex Carrick, Leah Carrick, Judah Catanus, Annie Cooper, Cameron Corbiere, Wyatt Corbiere, Jared Cortes, Jorja Croft, Anthony Dearing, Jonathen Deremo, Autumn Deschenes, Whittier Dwyer-Gauthier, Jaylyn Ense, Eliza Ermilova, Jayce Esquimaux, Zara Farquhar, Ava Ferguson, Joshua Foster, Alex Fowlie, Leah Gale, Ryan Goddard, Todd Gordon, Gabe Hare, Hudson Hare, Sophie Hietkamp, Alex Hore, Mary Hore, Cord Hughson, Paiden Hughson, Sydney Latva-Aro, Brady Lavallee, Kasch Lentir, Amelia Lewis, Riley Lockeyer, Aiden McCarthy, Jordan McLean, Damien Merrylees, Cindy Middleton, Aleynah Moffatt, Carter Moggy, Laura Orford, Rachael Orford, Patricia Patterson, Chloe Peltier, Lane Phillips, Zoe Redmond, Brie Rose, Kingsley Roy, Journey Ruyter, Lindsay Sheppard, Madison Skippen, Kyle Smith, Fiona Stephens, Jake Stevens, Jenna Taylor, Cassandra Temple, Bryce Thibault, Drake Trudeau, Sage Van Deyl, Julian Wemigwans, Christopher White, Jacob Wilson, Abby Witty and Darwin Wood. Certificate of accomplishment: Quentin Jacko