'We made it': N.W.T. high school grads celebrated by their communities

·4 min read
École St Patrick High School grads at a graduation celebration in June. (Ecole St. Patrick High School - image credit)
École St Patrick High School grads at a graduation celebration in June. (Ecole St. Patrick High School - image credit)

Students across the Northwest Territories are being celebrated in a whole host of ways — a Hollywood themed grad in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., bobble heads of students in Norman Wells, N.W.T., and gatherings for grads that students never could have imagined during the height of the pandemic.

Shamar Bennett is one of eight students graduating from Mackenzie Mountain School in Norman Wells, where he started out three years ago after moving from Jamaica.

"We're all going to be scattered over Canada, but I think we're all going to try our best to stay connected as much as we can," he said.

Around town, there will be signs with the graduates' faces, and each of them is getting a gift that's tradition at Mackenzie Mountain High School — personalized bobbleheads, he said.

Bennett said he'll take his bobblehead with him to Halifax, where he plans to study commerce at Dalhousie University.

His next endeavour is also a significant opportunity for him, a soccer player. He's been pushing to compete at a national level, and even fundraised to make those trips happen.

"Hopefully I can try out for the Dalhousie soccer team and make it. God willing, that would be really great moment for me."

Some of his classmates are off to University of Alberta, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Concordian and MacEwen.

"We're looking forward to transitioning into the outside world and seeing how we can take what we learned here in this small community," he said.

Bennet said living in Norman Wells has changed him to be more attuned to others "because it's so small here."

"Everyone's for everyone and I think I've grown to love and care for others and become much more ... sensitive to others' thoughts and ideas."

In the summer, Bennett will travel to Edmonton for the Canada Summer Games men's team in Edmonton and hopefully in August, he'll head to Canada Summer Games in Niagara.

He thanked his teachers, principal and mother for helping him along the way, adding "I'd like to say a big thank you for the North."

He also had a message for his classmates.

"I would just say a prayer that you guys have a great time wherever you go and that you do your best, that we will all stay connected no matter what. Love you guys."

A bittersweet moment

Rex Lagare
Rex Lagare

The valedictorian for École St. Patrick School in Yellowknife, Ava Applejohn, said the 75 graduates at her school spent the last two years working toward their diplomas, and half of that was online.

"We worked pretty hard to get to this point," she said. "It's just been really different but we made it ... It's kind of crazy how far we've come."

Ava said she's looking forward to her freedom to choose where she wants to go to school, and what to study.

"We've all grown up with each other, you know? I think we're all kind of a little antsy to get away and go to bigger places, see more things and new people. It's pretty exciting."

A few weekends ago, Applejohn and her classmates had a grad celebration at the Folk on the Rocks site put on by their parents.

"Everyone was having a really good time. But it was almost kind of sad because, I mean, these are the kids I grew up with," said Applejohn.

"To know that might be one of the last times that we're all kind of together, celebrating and having fun with each other … it was nostalgic, but kind of bittersweet."

Applejohn had some parting advice for her classmates.

"Don't let the future daunt you or scare you in any way. Let yourself be excited. Don't get too wrapped up in how stressful it is. Enjoy it. Enjoy the little things. And also, stay in contact with your old friends from high school and your parents."

'An absolute celebration'

Submitted by Dina Lee.
Submitted by Dina Lee.

The Chief T'Selehye School in Fort Good Hope had four grads this year.

They had a Hollywood-themed celebration, and parents and staff even put on a 35 mm film-themed display of students from their early childhood to present day.

"Every inch of that gym was transformed," said Matthew Kirby, the school's English teacher. Aunties and uncles flew in to celebrate, and some relatives worked until midnight transforming the gym.

The walls were black curtains, with a large marquee tent and a directors chair for each graduate and a rare sight in Fort Good Hope — palm trees, he said.

The community held a feast and celebration for the students, with a speech from Chief Tommy Kakfwi and from Edwin Erutse, president of the Yamoga Land Corporation.

Chief Kafwi recalled to the students his own experiences with education and how proud he was of them.

The event was "an absolute celebration of their achievements with the entire community involved," said Kirby.

Starting in late-February, the students had a lot of ground to cover, he said, due to the pandemic.

"I am deeply proud and they have done a remarkable job of working their way, step-by-step through COVID times and through the last semester," he said. "It's just been a great honour for me to be their teacher."

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