Wikwemikong High School holds open air 2020 grad ceremony

Wikwemikong High School principal Maureen Peltier and 2020 graduate Evanson Peltier-Pitawanakwat epitomize the atmosphere at the outdoor graduation event held at Thunderbird Park. Students, staff and families gathered to celebrate the moment after a months-long COVID-19 delay. 

WIIKWEMKOONG – The Wikwemikong High School graduation ceremony for 2020, Nimkii Bineshii Kaaning, was held at Thunderbird Park on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 2. Long postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the graduation ceremonies were well-attended by graduates and their families. The powwow arena of Thunderbird Park provided an ideal space for families to maintain physical distancing, while graduates and staff all wore face masks through most of the presentation ceremonies.

The ceremonies began with a prayer, delivered by teacher/mentor Chris Mara, followed by opening remarks from high school principal Maureen Peltier who began by acknowledging the distinguished guests, including Wikwemikong Board of Education (WBE) executive director Fay Zoccole, WBE systems principal Mick Staruck and WBE board members.

“You should be very proud of yourselves,” said Ms. Peltier, referencing the challenges presented during the final months of the school year by the pandemic. “You came out on top.”

Ms. Peltier noted that the students not only managed to keep their grades up and graduate, but also managed to take part in other activities. “You got involved,” she said.

“Patrick and Elijah took part in golf and the strength club; Anina, Gabriel, Monica, Jasmyn, Ashtin, Evanson all excelled in basketball or volleyball; Ian and Jasmyn took home some top honours in track and also showed great leadership skills within their sports teams and the youth council; Aaryn and Maya both helped with the robotics team and were instrumental in the Chairman’s Prize; Sterling not only was the drive team technician for the robotics team, but he was also our steady scorekeeper for volleyball. Jasmine and Owen were relatively new to our school, but they fit right in right away and Owen always made it to school before I did. Ashley, our Ms. Wiikwemkoong showed not only pride in her community but also her school and Shaylene has grown and matured in so many ways that she is a shining example of the hard work of our Life Skills team.”

Fay Zoccole also congratulated the Class of 2020 for their ability to excel despite being born into the challenging times following events such as the age of post-9-11 and the current pandemic. “We wish you well in your future endeavours,” she said on behalf of the WBE and staff.

Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories Ogimaa Duke Peltier addressed the gathering, offering his own congratulations as well as those on behalf of the band council and the entire community of Wiikwemkoong.

Ogimaa Peltier encouraged the graduates to give a round of applause thanking the principal, teachers and guidance counsellors. He cited those student accomplishments in sports and robotics that helped “put Wiikwemkoong on the global map” and expressed the pride of the community in the graduates.

“Don’t be shy to reach out for the help you need to attain your goals,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to dream big.”

“It was around this time of the day that I found out that I had been voted valedictorian,” said Ian Dokum, the 2020 WHS valedictorian. “It felt so good hearing my name being announced for this title—until I realized that I had to make a speech and graduation was in two days.”

“I don’t know what I expected, balloons maybe, or a new car,” he said. Instead Mr. Dokum said he found himself facing the daunting task of creating inspiring words for his classmates to remember when they looked back on this special day.

Mr. Dokum went on to share that the days of the pandemic marked the lowest point in his life, having left his home and going to live with his grandmother. “I left the person that I love, had no money, dry as a scorching desert,” he recalled. “I wasn’t liking the way I looked.”

“That didn’t stop me,” he said, refusing to allow the situation to determine his fate. “I realized that working hard is good.”

Mr. Dokum became emotional as he spoke about his grandmother and his gratitude for the role she has played in his life.

Following the valedictorian address, the awards ceremony took place.

The WHS bursary for Outstanding Attendance went to Sterling Pangowish, given by Ms. Peltier.

The Ontario Scholar Award was presented to Aaryn Zoccole by Ms. Peltier, accepted on her behalf by Mr. Mara.

The Governor General Award was also presented to Aaryn Zoccole, requiring a quick return to the stage by Mr. Mara.

The Athletics Awards were presented by teacher/coach Cameryn Beaudry. Most Improved Player for Golf went to Jasmyn Manitowabi. Most Valuable Player for Girls’ Basketball went to Anina Pangowish. Athlete of the Year (female) went to Jasmyn Manitowabi and (male) to Ian Dokum.

This year’s Wikwemikong High School graduation class included: Ashley Assinewai, Jayce-Lynn Assinewai-Trudeau, Patrick Beaudry, Ian Dokum, Elijah Fox, Monica Jacko-Polson, Jasmyn Manitowabi-Pangowish, Maya Mishibinijima, Ashtin Ominika-Pheasant, Anina Pangowish, Sterling Pangowish, Evanson Peltier-Pitawanakwat, Deborah Pitawanakwat, Jasmine Pitawanakwat, Owen Pitawanakwat, Samuel Pitawanakwat, Shaylene Pitawanakwat, Stephen Recollet, Brayden Recollet-Manitowabi, Gabriel Trudeau and Aaryn Zoccole.

Following the awards ceremony and the traditional tossing of mortarboards skyward, the graduates gathered with family and friends to capture the event for posterity.