WIIKWEMKOONG—Wiikwemkoong High School (WHS) graduates Caleb Corbiere, Mikaila Dokum-Trudeau, Little Bear Kanasawe, Chelsea Mandamin-Turner, Vince Naokwegijig, Rory Peltier, Fabian Recollect-Ominka, Johntae Toulouse and Montana Trudeau processed through the eastern doorway into the gymnasium to the sound of a hand drum welcome song.
Guidance counsellor Jillian Peltier was the master of ceremonies for the graduation.
WHS principal Harold Fox welcomed the graduates, noting that despite the challenges of the past couple of years, “we came out safe.”
“Nishin (good),” he said. “Today is a great day! This is a day you have waited for since Kindergarten.” The goal of the WHS staff, teachers, parents and guardians, has been to educate the students, said Mr. Fox. “For some of you, high school is just another step in your education as you head to post-graduate school or the trades,” he said. WHS is proud to have provided a first-rate education as a foundation for whatever students plan for the future, one that was delivered within the context of Anishinaabe culture and traditions. “Take all these experiences with you,” said Mr. Fox. “Stay close to your friends and drop in to see us. Believe in yourself, you can do it, be proud of yourself.”
WHS Director of Education Mick Staruck was called away at the start of the ceremony, but was able to join the graduates and their families during the feast that followed the diploma ceremony. Wiikwemkoong education portfolio holder Tim Ominika stood in for Mr. Staruck and also provided congratulations on behalf of chief and council.
“Whatever you decide to do going forward in life, know that your community is 100 percent behind you,” said Mr. Ominika. He went on to acknowledge the work of the staff, calling for a round of applause for their efforts. He noted the day was also very special for his own family as his son was one of the graduates.
Eugenia Eshkawkogan provided the keynote speech to the graduates, beginning her talk with a quotation from her uncle, Chris Pheasant baa. “Keep going, reach for the stars.” Ms. Eshkawkogan related the story of her own educational journey, which began in pursuit of a nursing degree at Laurentian University, but which eventually morphed into a career in Indigenous Social Work. “It was a tough decision,” she said, “but I would not change it for the world. I never thought I would apply for a masters program, but here I am. You have already started the next chapter of your life,” she said. “Don’t give up. You may have challenges, but you don’t give up.”
Valedictorian Vince Naokwegijig addressed his fellow graduates, beginning with a traditional introduction in Anishinaabemowin. “I would like to say chi-miigwetch to all of the staff and teachers who have supported us throughout the years,” he said. He also thanked the families who supported their children throughout their school years. (Mr. Noakwegijig’s speech can be found on The Expositor’s Facebook page.)
Montana Trudeau received the WHS bursary for Outstanding Attendance from Principal Fox. The Cambrian College Entrance Bursary, presented by Nancy Burke, went to Chelsea Mandamin-Turner and the Nicholas Wemigwans Memorial Bursary, presented by Jillian Peltier, went to Vince Naokwegijig.
Other awards and bursaries will be presented at the WHS awards banquet in December.