Grad credits Yukon U for giving her confidence and direction to do 'what really matters to me'

·3 min read
Over 200 students graduated from Yukon University on Saturday, June 4. This was the first in-person convocation the university held since transitioning from college. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC - image credit)
Over 200 students graduated from Yukon University on Saturday, June 4. This was the first in-person convocation the university held since transitioning from college. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC - image credit)

Amber Taylor-Fisher stood in front of Yukon University's graduating students, and their family and friends, and told them that a little over four years ago, she made the greatest decision of her life.

"I decided that life was worth living," she told the crowd of more than 600 people assembled for the university's first in-person graduation ceremony since it transitioned from a college.

"I fell down regularly, but I knew it didn't matter how many times I fell as long as I got back up and kept trying," said the citizen of the Tyendinaga Mohawk First Nation who grew up in Atlin, B.C., who said she struggled with addiction.

She said her journey included many challenges and doubts, but she viewed them as growing opportunities.

"Some days were hard, but if we never encountered hardship, we would never find a need to grow," she said.

Sissi De Flaviis/CBC
Sissi De Flaviis/CBC

As a student, she balanced being a single parent, working part-time, and coordinating support meetings for people with addictions.

"University gave me the confidence and direction I needed to do what really matters to me," she said.

"I am assured that the knowledge and experience I've gained during my studies will contribute to my future success," she said, adding that although she graduated with a certificate in office administration, she will be going into addictions support.

Taylor-Fish was one of 211 Yukon University students who graduated Saturday with a certificate, diploma or degree at the institution's first in-person graduating ceremony since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the last two ceremonies to be held virtually.

"My hope for the class of 2022 is that they'll go out and be bold," said Lesley Brown, president of the university. "Step into that place of fear when things feel a little bit uncomfortable and make change."

Celebrity graduate

Among the class of 2022 graduates was Yukon dancer Gurdeep Pandher, who received his bachelor of education.

"I'm feeling really wonderful that now we have a university here, north of 60. It makes me feel proud to be part of the first graduates," he said.

For Pandher, dancing and studying came hand-in-hand.

"In some ways, my dancing was the happy part," he said. "The positivity I was creating through my dance work was helping in my education and my studying."

Pandher said the most valuable lessons of studying at Yukon University included learning about Indigenous culture in the territory.

"I went to different cultural camps, met different elders, and wonderful people. So that was a great part of learning," he said.

'I'm so happy'

For many, the graduation ceremony was a special moment, including for Macarena Vegas-Contreras, who finished her studies in one year.

"I didn't finish my university in my country, I'm from Chile. I was expecting to wait for my [oldest] kid to finish all of their high school," she said.

Sissi De Flaviis/CBC
Sissi De Flaviis/CBC

As a mom of two, Vegas-Contreras had to balance being a parent, working night shifts and studying in the mornings.

"I'm so happy," she said after crossing the stage and receiving her certificate in office administration and accounting.

COVID-19 lessons

For Calysta Stoker, who graduated from the practical nurse program, it was challenging to be a student during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Learning how to work from home was very difficult. Then, it was hard to come back to class. But you learn to work with what you're given," she said.

Sissi De Flaviis/CBC
Sissi De Flaviis/CBC

Floyd Guanga, who also studied nursing, said learning online taught him how to be resilient and to appreciate his education journey a lot more.

"When I started my nursing education, I was kind of 50/50. I didn't know if I wanted to be a nurse. But as I got into the practice, I was like, 'Hey, this is a really good profession and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,'" he said.

Sissi De Flaviis/CBC
Sissi De Flaviis/CBC
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