On June 4, graduating students at Amiskwaciy Academy in Edmonton gathered with their peers, teachers, parents and supporters to celebrate the successful conclusion of 12 years of academic study. The 17 graduates, who will either continue with post-secondary education, join the ranks of the gainfully employed or move ahead with plans to pursue a number of trades training and apprenticeship programs, were lauded by their teachers, applauded by their peers and families and congratulated by Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB) administrators for “a job well done.”
“Edmonton Public Schools has a long standing tradition of excellence in education. Today you have become a part of this tradition and should be incredibly proud,” said Superintendent Darrel Robertson. “I’d like to congratulate all of the graduates today; this is an accomplishment that will continue to bring you opportunity in the years to come. I hope you reflect on the values of hard work, commitment and perseverance that have led you to this moment (because) it is these values that will help you to achieve your goals and fulfill your dreams. You’ve acquired strength in your character, wisdom and a passion for learning. As you move forward, I hope you continue your quest for knowledge and serve as a role model in the Aboriginal community. Remember to honour your culture; each of you is capable of accomplishing extraordinary things.”
Principal Fred Hines reiterated those comments and told the graduating students that “you represent the pride of this school and your Aboriginal community. Amiskwaciy Academy, its teachers, support staff and administration acknowledge the hard work and difficulties that you have taken on in order to become a part of our school’s distinguished graduates. Please consider Amiskwaciy Academy as part of your family and allow us to share in your future success.”
The 2015 graduation ceremony, which included the participation of more than 300 guests, got underway at 1 pm when Master of Ceremonies, Terris Mah announced the Grand Entry of Graduates and introduced Honour Song and Opening Prayer giver, Elder Francis Whiskeyjack. The festivities began with greetings from various speakers, including Robertson, EPSB Trustee Ray Martin and Elder Don Langford.
During the course of the afternoon graduation ceremonies, numerous community awards and presentations were made to the graduating students. Joey Supernault was the recipient of the RBC ’s $1,000 Royal Eagle Award, which was presented by Leslie Natyshen and Angela Ferguson. The Governor General’s Academic Award was presented to Raven Kootenay by teacher Miro Savic while retiring teacher Roy van Hooydonk presented the school’s Helping Hand Award and the Grade 12 Art Award to graduating student Sydney Lush. The Highest Academic Achievement Awards for students continuing on to post-education studies came via the Royal Glenora Rotary Club. Steve Young presented three $2500 cheques to students who will be attending NAIT (Sydney Lush), Grant MacEwan University (Joey Supernault) and the University of Alberta (Karlayna Pye). Additional awards of $1500 each were presented by Amiskwaciy Academy to Lusk, Supernault, Pye and Jaycee Akenakew.
The 2015 graduating ceremonies also honoured Valedictorians Raven Kootenay and Eartha Good Striker.
Both Kootenay and Good Striker addressed the gathering and both thanked “the Academy, the administration, the teachers and family and friends for all the support they have offered over the years.”
Good Striker noted that “we’ve finally made it to the moment that people in this room have been waiting for, the moment when our loved ones can look up at us with pride. We have accomplished our first set of goals; we have graduated. Getting to this point has been challenging but we have remained strong; we have helped one another along the way and we have become friends. Now I have a better understanding of what Social Studies teacher Mike Borowiecki meant when he said: “Sometimes you have to fail to succeed.” I know now that you do have to overcome the worst of times before the clarity of what is really important sinks in. The advice I offer to other students is to focus on what is important, believe in yourself and you will find the way forward.”
Kootenay congratulated each of the graduates and noted that “each of us has had to face our own trials within high school; we’ve had our losses and we’ve had our gains and we are all stronger for it. We have completed one stage of our lives and now it is time for us to follow the paths that our creator has chosen for us. One of the things that I will remember about the Academy is that every time I walk into the school each morning to the smell of sweetgrass and sage I know that I belong – that essence clarifies the spirit.”
Amiskwaciy Academy Elder Francis Whiskeyjack congratulated the graduates and thanked them for “choosing this site, not only as your place of learning, but also as your home away from home. On behalf of the school, I want to thank you all for being part of this family. We love you and will continue to love you even when you leave the nest. To some of you it probably seems like yesterday when you transitioned from elementary to junior high then progressed to being mature young adults. As I mentioned at our pipe ceremony yesterday you are again in transition to another era of a life journey. To we Native people, the rights of passage can lead you to search for many interesting life choices. Someone once quoted, “Nothing but ourselves can free our minds.” Success many not be measured by education alone, but by the life style we choose to lead as a contributing member in society. Generosity can be described as a life rich with opportunities to contribute to others and expecting nothing in return. Today marks confidence in what you have accomplished. Certainly you will make change as you continue to engage on your journey of self-discovery. As you are honoured, it is my hope that you will acknowledge and remember the people that have supported, mentored and encouraged you during your schooling. Many parents, siblings, relatives, friends, mentors, and teachers have shown love, care and concern while you were busy in the classroom. Truly the formation of these relationships will not be forgotten and will, in fact, inspire you to be proud of your history and who you are. Stand tall and believe in yourselves.”
Curriculum Coordinator/Counselor Laurie Sorensen also had a few words of wisdom as she read the lines from several pieces of poetry.
“Do one thing every day that scares you,” she said. “Sing. Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts; don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours. This is a whole new world, a thrilling chase, a wondrous place. May the good Lord be with you down every road you roam and may sunshine and happiness surround you when you are far from home.”
She continued, “Ladies and gentlemen from the graduating class of 2015, I offer you this tip for the future: I hope when the moment comes, you’ll say I owned every second that this world could give, I saw so many places, the things that I did, with every broken bone, I swear I lived.”
by John Copley