More than a thousand students were praised for their ability to “roll with the punches” as Assiniboine Community College said farewell to this year’s group of graduates.
It was the first time in two years the college ran its traditional ceremony format.
A total of 1,390 students from the Brandon and Winnipeg campuses, spanning 72 programs, were celebrated at the Keystone Centre Friday.
Graduates and their families enjoyed a barbecue outside of the arena, where many snuck off to take photos under the sunny sky before the procession started.
While “perseverance” was often used to describe what the past two years have been like for graduates, those at the ceremony had to do the same Friday afternoon.
Technical difficulties arose when the crowd was invited to stand for “O Canada.” Those in attendance collectively sang the Canadian national anthem acapella, in what was a fitting way to end many students’ post-secondary careers.
Mark Frison, president of ACC, praised graduates for their unrelenting efforts throughout the pandemic.
“What these students have achieved by rolling with the punches through the various stages they’ve been through is nothing short of remarkable,” he said.
The community college switched to emergency remote teaching in March 2020 but kept many programs in-person — probably more than most institutions in the country, according to Frison.
“We didn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Every program had a different experience.”
The president also lauded his staff’s attitude throughout the unpredictable period.
“[The instructors] were amazing. Beyond them doing a good job adjusting to those changes, I found our staff were good natured about [the pandemic]. I found they rolled with the punches in a way you could be proud of.”
Alexis Cinq-Mars held valedictorian honours in this year’s class.
The 26-year-old graduated with a two-year social service work diploma while being a mother to four children, all seven years old and under.
As if that isn’t impressive enough, she was also an Indigenous peer mentor, vice-president of the Assiniboine Community College Students’ Association and student council, and in her second year was ACC’s first vice-president of diversity and inclusion.
She recalled putting her kids to bed at 8 p.m. before sitting down to cram assignments before a midnight deadline, and doing video conferences with a baby on her lap.
Cinq-Mars laughed when she said she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it through the pandemic with her busy schedule.
“It was probably one of the most interrupted years,” she said on a phone call Thursday afternoon. “I think the most important part is just showing up and being engaged.”
“It was a lot of multitasking and staying focused on your work. When you’re at home it’s easy to get distracted by everything else that’s going on in your house. It took a lot of motivation to stay focused on the end goal.”
Cinq-Mars, an immunocompromised person, said the most difficult part of her schooling was trying to find child care when her program returned to in-person learning.
She credited a great support system that helped her navigate learning in cohorts, to online, to in person, back to cohorts, then in person again.
“It was kind of an unstable year. I feel very lucky to be with all of the graduates who persevered through that.”
Cinq-Mars plans to continue a full-time education at Brandon University this fall in gender and women studies.
During her valedictorian speech, she credited ACC for being a safe space where she could advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, promote Indigenous well-being and fiercely express her identify.
“Assiniboine [Community College] is a unique place where underrepresented voices can be heard and all it takes is a little courage,” she said Friday afternoon.
Cinq-Mars said her goal entering college was to grow personally and be a beacon of hope for those who are underrepresented.
She left her fellow graduates with two important reminders:
“A path with no obstacle probably leads nowhere,” and “Not every day will be good, but there’s good in everyday,” she said.
ACC will hold its second graduation ceremony in Dauphin next week.
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Joshua Frey-Sam, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun