MSS graduating class celebration a deserved recognition for students

The Manitoulin Secondary School class of 2021 processes beneath the Red Roof Pavilion during ceremonies held in Gore Bay to celebrate their graduation. photo by Michael Erskine

GORE BAY – COVID-19 couldn’t dampen the spirits of Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS)’s 2021  graduating class, so a little rain was certainly not going to curtail this either. 

A large gathering of graduating students, their parents, grandparents and friends were on hand at the Gore Bay waterfront this past Saturday for a graduation ceremony organized by Terri-Lynn Leighton with help from several other people. The proceedings were based at the Ronald McQuarrie gazebo as well as tents that kept students and some of those gathered (who didn’t have umbrellas) dry during the incessant rainfall during the ceremony. 

However, once again nothing deterred those taking part. 

The graduating class was led from the Gore Bay pavilion building along the boardwalk to the ceremony location by piper Iain McGale and flag carriers Mike Addison, Mike Zegil and Cole McLaughlin, who are volunteer members of the Gore Bay Fire Department, and MSS grad Shade Kaiser carrying the First Nation flag. The piper led the flag carriers and graduates from the pavilion along the boardwalk to the pavilion.  

Ellie Maxwell was then introduced by master of ceremonies Neil Debassige and led everyone in singing O’Canada.

Craig Fox then provided an honour song, “in honour of the graduates but also to acknowlege the recent events unfolding across Canada, at the sites of former Indian residential schools as symbolized by the orange ribbons worn my some graduates tonight. We remember.” 

Pastor Joel Lock offered a blessing. “Congratulations to all the graduates. Some might think the rain is a bad omen, but take a look around at what is here and you will see people standing shoulder to shoulder celebrating here this evening.” 

“Good evening parents, educators, family members, honoured guests, and of course, the Manitoulin Secondary School graduating class of 2021,” said Neil Debassige. “First off, on behalf of everyone in attendance tonight, congratulations to the graduates!”

“The last 18 months have been nothing short of remarkable. For we have been witness to the largest wholesale change of human behaviour in at least 100 years. Quite possibly even more. You have been tested like  no other set of students in recent memory. You have been thrown curveballs, fastballs, change ups and bloops, yet you continue to swing for the fence,” said Mr. Debassige.

The Manitoulin Secondary School class of 2021 processes beneath the Red Roof Pavilion during ceremonies held in Gore Bay to celebrate their graduation. photo by Michael Erskine

“It has been a pleasure for us to witness many of you at the top of your games,” continued Mr. Debassige. “Whether that was on the cafeteria acting stage, the basketball and volleyball courts, on the ice, in the classroom or simply at your places of work. We have watched you persevere through some of the most challenging and confusing times for the entire country yet you continue to swing for the fence.” 

“There were but a few constants during the last few years, shoulders and change. It is important for you all to remember those shoulders, of your parents, your families, your teachers and your friends. These shoulders have and will continue to help carry you in those tough times and I’m sure, when needed, you will get the opportunity to pay it back. This year taught you the importance of being there for each other. Don’t forget to say thank you to those shoulders when you get the chance, a hug or an ‘I love you’ goes a long way,” said Mr. Debassige.

Ms. Debassige noted, “the constant of change is the last thing I will remind you about. For change is life’s only constant. You are in the midst of change right now from secondary school to your next chapter, from teenage years to adulthood. From pandemic to the new normal.”

“The last year could be seen as one of the worst years ever but you have to look at things from a positive perspective,” continued Mr. Debassige. “Adapting to change and being good at it can and will be your best lesson. You have proven to your parents and teachers that you could do it, but we always knew you could.”

“Most importantly you have proven to yourselves that nothing, not even a global pandemic, can stop you from achieving your goals, after all you are Manitoulin Mustangs and we never stop swinging for the fence,” stated Mr. Debassige. “Congratulations once again on behalf  of your families and friends. We wish you the best of luck in what comes next.”

Talented Evansville singer Ellie Maxwell performed two songs at the MSS graduation celebration.

“It is with great pleasure that I call up the following Manitoulin Secondary School graduates for 2021,” stated Mr. Debassige. Each of the graduates moved to the middle of the gazebo, picked up a diploma and stopped in the entrance of the gazebo after they were introduced, and then had photographs taken.

The graduates included Monica Zilio, Sylena Wright, Kyle Wood, Kailee Williams, Trevor White, Jacey Varey, Nathan Temple, AJ Steeves, Hunter Smith, Ashton Smith, Skye Setterington, Jake Robinson, Nick Purvis, Hailey Prior, Jade Phiri, Macy Pearson, Cameron Buck-Orr, Ayriell Nodecker, Naomi Naokwegijig, Bailey Yaschuk-Middaugh, Hunter McGauley, Matteus McCulloch, Lauren Mackay, Dylan Lockhart, Malia Leighton, Tyler Leeson, Aaron Leeson, Shade Kaiser, Regan Hutchinson, Michael Hore, Chase Hester, Kyle Greenman, Mackensie Graham, Joe Graham, Chris Gillespie, Michael Gibbons, Harmony Kaiser-Fox, Jessica Elliot, Rachel Deforge, Darci Debassige, Rory Dearing, Haylee Cress, Maggie Chapman, Cole Chandler, Memphis Cadieux, Kyra Cada, Tessa Bellmore, Dayna Beauchamp and Alina Arthurs.

Mr. Debassige then introduced the MSS valedictorian for 2021. “It is with incredible joy that I call up the Manitoulin Secondary School valedictorian for 2021. I have known this young lady for many years, almost 17 to be exact. She has made us laugh, made us cry and always made us proud. She is and has been a leader from a very young age in every regard; from her work ethic, her commitment, and her dedication to being the best student, friend, athlete, graduate and of course daughter. I call up Darci Debassige.”

Valedictorian Darci Debassige gave a speech that transcended the times, one of reflection on the challenges MSS students as well as everyone in the world has faced over the past 18 months, the triumphs and challenges faced by the graduates and how much attending and being part of the MSS school has meant to her and others over their high school career.

Mr. Debassige noted, “this evening would not have been possible without the effort of Terri Lynn Leighton or as Lakeview students used to call her Miss TL. As all of you know it is because of her tenacity that we are here tonight to acknowledge and celebrate alongside these graduates. Miigwech, Miss TL for persevering and making this happen rain or shine.”

“This is not exactly how I had planning for beautiful ceremonies, but we are here tonight to make the best of it to celebrate the well deserved graduates,” said Ms. Leighton. “You have all persevered,” she said,  noting “there are so many people that need to be thanked for making this all happen. I want to thank all of you.” 

Ms. Leighton presented a gift to Maggie Chapman who put together a video that all students will be able to view. 

Ellie Maxwell then closed the evening’s ceremony with a beautiful song, appropriately enough, ‘What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love.’