MANITOULIN—Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) celebrated its graduating class of 2020 in a virtual ceremony published on December 17, featuring messages of support and congratulations from school officials who could not host an in-person ceremony due to pandemic restrictions.
Vice-principal Dawn Noble McCann served as emcee for the ceremony.
“Tonight is a time to be joyful and maybe even a little relieved, but mostly a time to be proud as we are all here to celebrate and honour this incredible group of young people and all of their accomplishments,” she said.
Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) First Nations Trustee Linda Debassige’s remarks to graduates included encouraging words that making wise decisions is not always easy, but doing so will have lasting benefits in one’s life.
“In Indigenous culture and traditions, the Seven Grandfathers teach us the lessons of love, respect, bravery, truth, honesty, humility and wisdom as the path to a good life. It is my sincere wish that these teachings guide you as you continue to develop your full potential and become all that you were meant to be,” said Trustee Debassige.
Next were remarks from RDSB Manitoulin Trustee Margaret Stringer, who opened with an acknowledgement of the many people that contribute to student success, from family, friends, teachers and, yes, the students themselves, especially during a pandemic.
“Take time to think about what you want to do and the type of person you want to be, and let the values you want to live by guide you every day,” she said. “The choices you make will help decide the future of our country and our world.”
Principal Jamie Mohamed said 2020 has been a year of learning to adapt to a rapidly changing world and he acknowledged the class of 2020 for having to persevere during their education.
“When faced with adversity, remember all that you did to get you through high school. You are strong, resilient graduates of Manitoulin Secondary School and I’m proud to say that you are our future. Believe in yourselves, continue to challenge yourselves and live life to its fullest,” said Mr. Mohamed.
Following the principal’s address, he read the list of 2020 graduates as their grad photos flashed on screen.
Vice principal Denis Lafleur then introduced valedictorian Mackenzie Cortes, beginning with a testament to her commitment to an unforgettable high school experience. He cited her involvement in all of the extracurricular activities she could join, her musical creativity with her tribute graduation song released earlier this year, and a variety of comments from teachers (dating back to her elementary school days) about her positive presence in their classes.
“I strongly believe that Mackenzie will make a difference in this world,” he said.
Mackenzie’s valedictorian speech is printed below:
“2020, what a hell of a year. We’ve been through so much that’s gotten us here. Cancelations and classes online from your room. It really is hard to do school through your laptop on Zoom. Okay, we don’t need to hear that song again, but it does make some valid points. And it brings back memories of Grade 12.
“Starting Grade 12 in the almost new and improved MSS. The partially renovated building and the constantly changing detours from closed-off hallways, and believe me I was very familiar with these long detours from having to sprint the absolute longest possible route to get to the office every morning. I truly hope you guys will never forget hearing me panting into the announcements mic from being so out of breath to get there on time. Shoutout to Amber for never forgetting about morning announcements.
“We also had the fancy couches and the struggle of running out of chairs at a table in the caf. Apart from that, we had the feeling of superiority from finally being the new Grade 12s and the well-deserved chance of having a spare. Also the stress of applying to schools, getting into schools and deciding on a program to start us on the right career path, or just figuring out what to do after high school in general.
“We had a nice Christmas break and the feeling of excitement for the new year 2020 that was going to be so good. Then we found out about a deadly virus that had started in China and learned that march break was going to be three weeks long. Eventually, we found out this coronavirus was now a full-on pandemic and we were left wondering how this led to the shortage of toilet paper.
“We had to slowly come to the realization and acceptance that we wouldn’t be making it back to MSS to finish school. Instead, we were informed that we would finish high school from our laptops at home, most likely in bed while still in pyjamas.
“So yeah, we missed out on prom and an actual graduation ceremony, and we didn’t get a real last day of Grade 12. It sucks.
“I’m well aware that this speech is sounding like a real downer, but that was the reality, and we missed out on some major experiences of our senior year. That being said, we can’t lose sight of the things we do have to be grateful for in our lives. Instead of focusing on the things we didn’t get to experience, we have to rejoice in the things we did get to be a part of.
“The sports, the clubs, the teams, the spirit days, the fun days, the friendships we’ve made, the bonds we’ve formed, the things that we’ve learned. There’s all that good stuff buried under the things we are so devastated to have missed out on. Cherishing the good memories is what will keep us going.
“We have to be thankful that we were able to continue learning even as we were all separated. We must be grateful to our teachers for continuing to stay dedicated through online learning to prepare us for post-secondary and make sure that we could continue to learn. Most importantly, we have to be proud of ourselves for getting through so many weeks of learning through a computer screen.
“We worked hard through lost motivation and slow WiFi and distracting noises in the background from annoying siblings. We’ve learned a lot in the past four years, and that’s including 2020. Even when it seems like learning is impossible or that we feel absolutely useless, we must remember that nothing can stop us from learning.
“I had to be reminded of this by someone when I lost sight of why I was working so hard for a bad mark. He told me to never let anything stop you from learning. Not a bad mark, or a fail, or a nay-sayer or anything else that may be dragging you down.
“Not even roosters screeching at the top of their lungs, or bipolar temperatures changing from hot to freezing cold with no in-between, or construction workers drilling into the walls all around you while you’re trying to write a test. He reminded me of the importance of perseverance. He told me that I should see failure as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and understand what I need to do to be better for next time.
“I think we all need to be reminded of this sometimes. Especially all the people doing online school right now. Starting university or college is difficult enough on its own. Starting post-secondary school online is a whole other playing field.
“The challenges we face are essential in teaching us to adapt to the new learning environment and we should not see this as failure. We need to see this as a chance for us to become stronger and more resilient to the workloads and the difficult concepts we’re being taught.
“Even the people who aren’t in school right now, whether you’re working or taking a year off, there will be different challenges that you may be faced with that you’ll also need to adapt to.
“So, on behalf of our graduating class of 2020, I’d like to thank the people who helped us get to the places we are today. The people who helped us through our four years at MSS. Thank you to the MSS administration who make the difficult decisions to keep MSS running smoothly.
“Thank you to the MSS staff who work tirelessly to maintain the building to provide a safe place to learn. Thank you to the MSS faculty for putting up with us students and teaching us even on the days we didn’t want to be taught. Thank you to all the family members that have supported us throughout our lives and academic careers. And thank you to the students for making MSS full of memories and a fun place to learn.
“So, as we are reunited again here, virtually, I hope we can take some time to reflect on how we have grown since we’ve gone our separate ways. We have the rest of our lives ahead of us. We still have time to screw up, make mistakes and continue to figure things out. We must live our lives to the fullest. Live your life for your future self. Make choices and do the things that your future self will look back on and be proud of.
“Don’t miss out on things because you’re afraid of other people’s opinions. Think about your future self and whether you would have regrets for not doing something. Live in the present by thinking about your future self looking back on the past. Push through the difficult times and the judgement of strangers.
“Have faith in yourself and know that it’s never too late to try new things. Don’t stop learning. And don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. We are the class of 2020 and we are capable of anything! Thank you.”
At the end of the ceremony was a short clip of 33 physically distanced school staff members congratulating the graduates while holding a ‘class of 2020’ banner.
The 2020 MSS graduates are: Carter Abotossaway, Lukas Abotossaway, Kal Alhadi, Britney Biedermann, Kyleigh Biedermann, Nicole Boyle, Caleb Byers, Zachary Carr, Reece Carter, Brady Case, Larissa Chevrette, Jasmine Clark, Keegan Clarke, Von Clayton, Willow Corbiere, Mackenzie Cortes, Zoe Couillard, Jessica Craig, Alex Dawson, Mickey-Lynn Deeg, Donald DeGrace, Harmony Esquimaux, Ayden Farquhar, Jonah Gilmore, Tanner Golder, Rheanne Green, Ally Hall, Natasha Hall, Olivia Hall, Sydney Hallett, Abbie Harper, Shield Harvey-Migwans, Sam Hill, Lily Hore, Nathan Janoki, Grant King, Cassidy Latva-Aro, Avery Lentir, Karlee Lentir, Randi Lynn Lovelace, Michael Madahbee, Ben Marshall, Nyah McDowell, Anna Migwans, Jasen Millette, Gregory Mishibinijima, Mya Otosquaiob, Zoe Peltier, Connor Phillips, Austin Purvis, Jason Quackenbush, Aryanna Recollet-Pitawanakwat, Shania Roy, Holly Sagle, Xavier Sagon-Panamick, Marjorie Scott, Teigan Seabrook, Nicole Shank, Monica Shawanda, Avery Sheppard, Rachel Sheppard, Abby Smith, Taylor Smith, Zoe Smith, Ella Stewart, Sterling Stoneypoint, Madison Swihart, Katelyn Taylor, Shaylee Taylor, Boston Thibault, Rachel Tompkins, Paige VanderWeerden, Valarie Wabegijik, Amber Wahl, Morgan Wall-Varey, Quentis Wood, J.T. Wright and Tanner Wright. Receiving certificates of accomplishment are Jacob Brasil and Hunter McDermid.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The graduation photos included were the only photos received by press time Monday from students who had granted permission for their use to Principal Mohamed.