On May 25, students from all over the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories gathered in Whitehorse at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, in celebration of the forty-third annual First Nations graduation. This year’s graduating class was the largest on record, consisting of 128 Aboriginal high school graduates, from twenty-six different First Nations. Several-hundred family members and supporters were also in attendance from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.
Students celebrated the end of their high school chapter in traditional regalia or traditionally inspired garments, including colourful hand-beaded vests, dresses, headbands and moccasins. The ceremony began with the RCMP Marching Guard–Aboriginal Unit, which was followed by the drumming in of the graduates, accompanied by the Chundäy K’anat’a Dancers.
Kwanlin Dün First Nation Elder Jessie Dawson began the ceremony with an opening prayer. Tessa Bailey, a motivational speaker, was also invited to speak at this year’s First Nations graduation. She addressed the students and gave them words of inspiration and encouragement about their future journey into the next chapter of their lives.
This year’s valedictorian was awarded to Aleshia Kremer, who graduated from Vanier Catholic Secondary School. The young graduate shared that she was honoured to have been asked to be this year’s valedictorian. She also expressed that being valedictorian pushed her outside her comfort zone; however, she remarked that she was extremely proud to represent the town of Teslin. Kremer has been officially accepted into Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, in the Undeclared Science program, and hopes to transfer to a nursing program, next year, or go into biomedical research.
One of the people who helped Kremer the most, throughout high school, was Lenora Minet, a First Nations counsellor. Kremer expressed that Minet was a major help in understanding the university application process, but who also made a point of always checking in to see how she was doing.
Aleshia Kremer’s advice to upcoming graduates is to explore their options, look into smaller schools and take advantage of all of the scholarships that are offered and available. She also shared that it is important to understand that school can be very stressful and that it is essential to take time to recuperate as well.
Throughout the First Nations graduation ceremony, 34 honours were awarded to students based on their achievements and hard work. The Grade 12 (Dogwood) diplomas were presented to graduating students by First Nation chiefs, followed by a few closing remarks wishing the graduates of 2018 the best of luck in their future endeavours and journey.