Wiikwemkoong High School’s Class of 2021 excelled in the most trying of years

The Wiikwemkoong High School class of 2021 are Quinton Corbiere, Shawl Eshkibok, Bret Kimewon, Dante Lewis, Mary Pangowish, Sierra Pangowish, Tayrn Peltier, Bryce Recollet, Hunter Staruck, Kendra Wassengeso and Ella Williams. (Missing from photo is Travis Assinewe and Kaleb Dokum.)

WIIKWEMKOONG—The Wiikwemkoong High School (WHS) graduating class of 2021 demonstrated immense poise and presence as they gathered in front of their families and teachers for a ceremony representing the culmination of their high school years.

Master of ceremonies duties for the 2021 WHS graduation was guidance counsellor Jillian Peltier, who welcomed caregivers, families, students, teachers and colleagues to a very special day in their lives.

A welcome song by the Wossnodeh drum group greeted the graduates who processed onto the covered stage at Thunderbird Park where seats had been set up for both they and their families as a precaution against the threatening rain. Teachers gathered under the arbours lining the powwow arena to watch their fledglings leave the nest.

Welcoming remarks were provided by Principal Harold Fox who welcomed both those attending in person and those joining online. “We can finally put this year behind us,” he quipped, noting there was far more enthusiasm for that comment when he was principal at the Junior School with the same students leaving Grade 4. “We celebrate your success,” he said. “Nishin, please come back to share your future success. We encourage you to continue your education.”

Wiikwemkoong Board of Education education director Mick Staruck delivered his opening remarks first in Anishinabemowin and then in English. Citing each student by name, the education director noted that each was special and unique in their own way.

Mary Pangowish garnered both the Ontario Scholar and Governor General’s Award for 2021. Wiikwemkoong High School Principal Harold Fox presented the awards.

“I have watched you grow on your way in life,” he said. Mr. Staruck noted the pride he felt in watching his son Hunter graduate from WHS. “Always remember who you are and where you came from,” he exhorted the graduates. “Continue to learn more about your connections to the earth, spirituality, your community and Anishinabemowin. This foundation and understanding will keep you grounded and will carry you through some of the challenges ahead. Always know you are loved and your value.”

Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier congratulated the staff students and especially their families for the support they provided despite a very trying year. “We thank those who have helped you along your educational journey to find your passion,” he said. “Live your full life to the best of your abilities and find your passion.” He asked the graduates to pass on their knowledge to those youth who come after them.

The valedictorian speech was delivered by Hunter Staruck and is presented in its entirety on this page.

High school diplomas were awarded to Travis Assinewe (missing due to work obligations), Quinton Corbiere, Kaleb Dokum (missing), Shawl Eshkibok, Bret Kimewon, Dante Lewis, Mary Pangowish, Sierra Pangowish, Tayrn Peltier, Bryce Recollet, Hunter Staruck, Kendra Wassengeso and Ella Williams.

The WHS bursary for Outstanding Attendance was presented by Mr. Fox to Bret Kimewon, whose attendance, Ms. Peltier suggested, may well have reached 100 percent.

The Wiikwemkoong High School Outstanding Attendance Award went to graduate Bret Kimewon whose attendance would have surpassed 100 percent if that were possible.

Both the Ontario Scholar Award and the Governor General’s Medal were presented to Mary Pangowish by Mr. Fox.

Ms. Peltier recited a poem, ‘Find Yourself,’ written by former student WHS student Lindy Kinoshameg, before the formal presentation of the students.

Stop livin’ down here and start livin’ up here.
Prove yourself, show your stuff and forget your fear…
The days will come as fast as they go,
Your ladder of success climbs with the more you know…
The time has come, opportunity is knockin’ at your door.
Raise yourself up and strive for more,
You know what you must do, to get where you want to go.
Believe in yourself and let your mind grow, 
The ticket to your success is within your reach.
So, sit and hear, what they must teach…
Your elders, your leader, your parents, your peers,
The ones who’ll guide you through the years.
So, be yourself and live what you learn.
Make it count, every penny you own is a penny you earn.
It’s all on you, use your tools, keep that head high through the storm.
Cause you know, champions are made, not born.

Following the formal graduation ceremony, Wossnodeh sang an honour song for the graduates as they processed from the stage and gathered on the arena grounds in front of the stage for the traditional post-graduation photographs.

Valedictorian’s speech

Hunter Staruck Class valedictorian

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is the  speech delivered by this year’s valedictorian Hunter Stasruck. 

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Hunter Staruck, now former student of Wikwemikong high school. I’ll try to keep this short and sweet so first, I’d like to say that I am honored to have been chosen by my fellow classmates to speak on behalf of the class of 2021. 

When I had first heard the news that I was the valedictorian I was excited, I thought ‘what did I win? Is there a plaque, some money involved?’ I had no clue what it meant—little did I know all that meant was you get to talk in front of a crowd. 

As a high school student this the worst imaginable scenario, I’m sure I can speak for everyone on this stage when I say that the days where you had to present in front of the class were dreaded. Even though you presented in front of 15 people and three of them were your friends, it’s funny looking back how nervous we were. So my immediate reaction was  ‘yeah, I’ll pass on that.’ 

So, I put it off for a week. In my mind I had handed it off to someone else—it’s the day before graduation and I get a text from my mom, ‘How’s that speech coming along?’

My heart dropped. I had completely forgotten about it. But at this point I’m locked in to speaking. 

Back to square one. What is a valedictorian? I look it up and what it is. My job essentially is to give a beautiful farewell speech that will close out this final chapter of high school. 

Now after reading that, what I wish I had done was take time to talk to my peers about their experiences through high school to really represent every perspective throughout our collective journey. 

Because, personally, I had a good time for the most part, lots of laughs and good memories. 

But not everyone had my same experience. Some people hated high school from the pressures of getting good grades, pressures of fitting in or the struggles of finding who you are in the midst of all of that. 

These are troubles we have all faced throughout our time at high school. 

But graduation day shouldn’t be a reminder of those times, what it should be is a celebration of your perseverance. In spite of the challenges, you were still able to succeed. 

So, moving forward, if you were to take anything from this rambling speech, all I ask from you is to invest in yourself. Because you can only benefit and grow as a person from doing so. And, when you bet on yourself, the rewards are that much sweeter. 

Like I said, this was going to be short and sweet, so to close I want to give some love to the teachers as it is only right. Thank you for being motivators and preaching to us about potential all the way to the very end. But aside from that you all provided such a welcoming, easy environment and from a teacher that is all you can really ask for. 

Thanks to the coachs on those sports teams, even though we got smacked in damn near everything, those trips were always such a good time. 

Finally, a big thank you to this group of kids right here, you could have made my life miserable, but you chose to spare me—and thank you. 

With all that said, that’s been my time, once again I’m Hunter Staruck, and let’s put our hands together one more time…for the graduating class of 2021.