Revisit Grad 2014
Learn about First Nations students all over Manitoba who are working hard and graduating high school.
I recently read that it is not the job of a journalist to be a cheerleader. And for whatever reason that stuck with me. It makes sense. A journalist’s job is to report the news, good and bad, in as unbiased a way as possible. But then I started thinking about how that relates to the topic of First Nations graduates, particularly those who graduate high school. All I ever see or read in the news are the negative statistics. The doomsday proclamations about how big the gap is between First Nations and other high school students. How the drop out rate is higher and the success rate lower. How schools are severely underfunded resulting in fewer and fewer students graduating. And these statistics may be true, but I also know that there is another side to this story.
Through my work at MFNERC I have had the opporutnity to meet many First Nations students. Students all over Manitoba who are working hard and graduating high school. And, in my opinion, it’s about time they received some much deserved focus and unabashed cheerleading.
I have also had the chance to attend many First Nations graduation ceremonies, from the youngest kindergarten graduates to mature students accepting post-secondary diplomas. And I would like to share a few of the highlights, with a focus on the many amazing high school graduates I have seen accept their diplomas.
In 2013, at Peguis Central School on Peguis First Nation, 25 students graduated from Grade 12. With the gym transformed and family and friends surrounding them, each graduate walked down a centre aisle to cheers and applause. As well, the audience was told what each student planned to accomplish after high school. Two doctors, nurses, teachers, a writer, a carpenter, a chef were all in the plans for these remarkable students.
That same year, on the Sandy Bay First Nation, Isaac Beaulieu Memorial School boasted over 50 high school graduates. Community member Eileen Roulette shared these inspiring words, “I can well imagine the struggles you must have known in reaching your goals. Growing up in our community is a daily challenge and I commend you for being strong in facing all the negative pressures that come with growing up. But through it all you learn to become stronger, more determined to make a better life for yourselves, and become role models for the coming generations.”
This year at Sagkeeng First Nation, 18 students graduated from the Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School. The audience and grads were treated to a delicious meal and numerous encouraging remarks from local dignitaries including celebrated author Theodore Fontaine. Valedictorian, Carly Fontaine summed things up well, “My fellow grads we began high school as children, we’re leaving as adults. We have accomplished a basic education to serve as a platform to launch us into our futures. Some of us will go on to college, others will go straight into the work force, but each of us will travel our own path. No matter what, where we go or what we do, there are challenges ahead of us. What I’m asking for each of you, and myself, is to meet those challenges with your heads held high and your hearts wide open.”
At Southeast Collegiate in Winnipeg, 27 young people made up the class of 2014. It was definitely a family affair as many graduates were escorted into the beautifully decorated gymnasium by their parents, children and other relatives. Then it was time for a few speeches, including one from Treaty Commissioner Jamie Wilson, and finally the moment everyone was waiting for, the diplomas!
Returning briefly to the negative statistics. A recent Maclean’s magazine article on the topic of First Nations Education stated that, “A comparison of data from the 2011 National Household Survey and the 2006 Census showed that little progress was made on the high school graduation rate of First Nations students on reserves, where schools are federally funded,” (May 2, 2014).
Well I’d like to offer Maclean’s the examples I have just given of students and families who are refusing to be statistics. They deserve just as much attention. The four graduation ceremonies highlighted in this article are just a few of the success stories coming out of Manitoba’s First Nations schools. From Lac Brochet to Rousseau River, exciting accomplishments are happening all over the province, not to mention the country. And, as already stated, I believe it’s important to celebrate these students, to cheer them on. They are making huge strides. and are living out their dreams of a successful future.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what that future holds for them.