In early June 78 Aboriginal graduates from schools across the Vancouver district gathered at the Italian Cultural Centre with family and friends to celebrate the successful completion of one stage in their lives and mark the exciting new beginning of another. Themes of relationships and leadership came up in many of the speeches.
Van Tech's Dayja Ducharme, who represented her peers as valedictorian, noted how Aboriginal Education Enhancement Workers helped them weave their beautiful cedar graduation caps. "We were talking when we were sewing and I thought to myself, I wanted the buttons on the cap to mean more than just decoration," she said. "I wanted them to have a purpose. This middle one represents me and how I've grown as a person. I call myself 'big button.' The other buttons represent my family and the support they've given me to get here. I'm also very grateful for the teacher support and for the friends I have. I wouldn't have gone to high school without them all."
Dayja also related how VSB Knowledge Keeper and elder Shane Pointe inspired her. "He's brought up the word 'osiem' and what it means [respected person]," she said in her valedictory speech. "For me, a leader is someone who influences someone in a good way. They're not just telling you what to do, they're saying 'let's do this together.'"
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, reminded the students that they will carry the work of their elders forward and pass that purpose onto their children and grandchildren. "I want to thank you individually for helping each other, supporting each other," said Phillip. "A big shout out to the parents, to the grand parents, the guardians and the foster parents, to all of those important people in our lives who were there in our darkest times and believed in us to the point they kept us moving forward. As you move forward from this day you will meet other people who will come into your life that will help you on your journey."
Retiring District Principal for Aboriginal Education, Don Fiddler, spoke of the continuing role of education in his own life and of his goals for this graduation celebration. "I hope the students feel that they've been recognized in terms of their achievements, feel that they have been respected, and that they have a good time."