The graduation rate for aboriginal youth has been steadily rising in BC and on June 9, VSB celebrated about 100 aboriginal grade 12 students who graduated from Vancouver secondary schools in 2016. Family and friends stood as the students were drummed into the grand ballroom of the Italian Cultural Centre wearing button blankets and regalia.
A series of speakers offered up encouraging words for the future.
"We leave today as the new generation of indigenous youth that have no need to be bound by the preconceptions of what native people can and cannot do," said valedictorian Isaiah Lehtinen, a Metis from Britannia Secondary. "Find something you're passionate about and pursue it."
"If you are not in a place where you are learning and contributing, [use your two feet] move to a place where you can learn and contribute," said keynote speaker Khelsilem, a Squamish cultural educator and language scholar. "As you graduate from this one stage in your life and move into what I feel is really the most exciting part, now you have the control over your life to decide - how am I going to change the world, what am I going to do that's going to make a difference, because each and every one of you can do that."
Amelia Johnson-Leo was awarded one of two Urban Spirit Foundation Bursaries for students who have overcome challenges to finish school. Amelia has a 15-month-old son and is graduating from Tupper's Young Parents Alternative Program. "Young mothers in this program really push for their children, they want to accomplish something, to be a better person," she said. "It's kind of freaky to think I won't need to go to high school anymore. I'm pretty proud of myself." Johnson-Leo is going to VCC next year for Baking & Pastry Arts, and wants to start her own business.
After each graduate crossed the stage to receive their certificate and a silver pendant, it was time for feasting and entertainment.
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