Graduates embrace new beginnings at District-wide Indigenous Achievement Celebration
The District-wide Grade 12 Indigenous Achievement Celebration held last Thursday at the Italian Cultural Centre brought together families, Elders and staff to honour and celebrate the Indigenous graduating class of 2023. This event marked a significant milestone for these students, symbolizing their triumph over challenges and their unique educational journeys.
“This special ceremony marks the end of your secondary school journey, but also celebrates the people you are and the unique culture and history that lives within you,” said Helen McGregor, VSB superintendent.
A piano accompaniment by Len Isbister of Métis Nation could be heard as families of the graduates were ushered in. The event commenced with a land acknowledgement by Chas Desjarlais, acting director of instruction for Indigenous Education, and then the students were welcomed in with a drumming performance by Latashkinem Williams and Elders Rosetta Nahanee and Iris Newman of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) Nation.
After welcoming remarks by xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nation’s Morgan Guerin and a prayer song by səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation’s Robert George, VSB Chair Victoria Jung, Desjarlais and McGregor shared a few words with the graduating class.
“My fellow trustees and I share a commitment to ongoing learning and unlearning about Indigenous culture and history as we continue our individual reconciliation journeys. We're also committed to supporting reconciliation and Indigenous ways of learning in our schools,” said Jung. “Thank you for putting your trust in our public school system and I wish you the very best on your next adventure.”
The highlight of the evening was the keynote address delivered by Stella Sikorski, the valedictorian from Vancouver Technical Secondary. Her inspiring words resonated with the audience, as she reflected on the journey, triumphs and aspirations of her Indigenous peers.
“All of us should be proud of ourselves for making it to this point and continuing to grow and find new challenges. We all push through difficult times that hit both personally and worldwide, such as the discovery of unmarked graves, past residential schools and COVID-19. We should also all be proud to sit here and call ourselves Indigenous,” said Sikorski.
The evening also featured a hoop dance performance by Shantae King, representing the Nisga'a and Anishinaabe Nations. Following the performance, graduates excitedly lined up to receive their well-deserved stoles, medallions and certificates.
The Indigenous Education Leadership & Excellence Awards were presented to Emily Prest of Sir Winston Churchill Secondary and Sikorski. Recognizing their perseverance in overcoming challenges, the Urban Spirit Foundation Bursaries were awarded to Kevin Gosnell of Windermere Secondary and Vanaya Jobin of Cedar Walk, Vancouver Alternate Secondary School (VASS).
As the night drew to a close, a delicious dinner was served with special reverence shown to the Elders who were served first.
The 2023 Grade 12 Indigenous Achievement Celebration was an incredible evening celebrating rich culture and Indigenous identity. It marked not only the completion of a significant chapter in the lives of these graduates, but also the beginning of a journey filled with endless possibilities. Congratulations to the Indigenous graduates of 2023!