Pelican Falls First Nations High School celebrates graduates
Tim Brody - Editor
“For these students, they’ve been working online for two years… it’s been an enormous challenge for them with the technical difficulties, just being disconnected from their teachers and each other, being able to overcome that is just inspirational. As young people, I think we should admire them and congratulate them for being able to accomplish what they’ve accomplished,” Pelican Falls First Nations High School (PFFNHS) Principal Darrin Head shared when speaking of the graduating class of the 2021-2022 school year.
On May 19, surrounded by their families, along with school staff and dignitaries, graduating students were celebrated and honoured in a special convocation ceremony.
“You are successful. Maybe you never thought of it that way. Or maybe when you think of a successful person you think of someone totally different, but you have earned that title. You did the work, you put in the time and now you are successful, and you get to enjoy that,” keynote speaker Sandi Boucher, a successful motivational speaker, businessperson and authoer who grew up in Hudson, told graduating students, adding, “Success is a recipe. It’s steps that you do over and over, and you know the recipe.”
Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox also brought congratulations, encouraging graduating students to hold onto their hopes and dreams when life gets hard.
“I hope when those days and those struggles come to you, which they will, that you take that time to remember what your hope is, what your dream is, what your passion is, what excites you, what lights that fire in your belly? And hold onto that. Just hold onto it, you’ll get through that day or days or maybe even a week, a month, who knows? Hold onto that dream.”
Congratulations were also expressed by Sioux Lookout Deputy Mayor Joyce Timpson and by video, provincial NDP candidate Sol Mamakwa.
The convocation ceremony also included a celebration of life for Barry McLoughlin, a longtime PFFNHS teacher who recently passed away.
Students said it took a lot of hard work to achieve their dream of graduation.
Thunder O’Keese, who also delivered the valedictory address, said of graduating after two years of online schooling resulting from the COVID-10 pandemic, “It’s definitely been a struggle, for sure, but luckily my teachers are very great. They helped me a lot whenever I struggled as well. I would message them and ask for help whenever I needed it.”
O’Keese said he was proud of his accomplishments and said his classmates should be proud of their accomplishments as well, “Before I wasn’t really proud of myself. I wasn’t satisfied with any of my grades and then I just started to apply myself, started to work harder and I became proud of myself.”
“It feels great to have an in-person grad,” he added.
Sara Meekis said of receiving her diploma with her family in attendance, “It was exciting… it was very emotional for me… it took me five years to get here. It feels good.”
Ezerial Mekanak said of graduating, “It feels very awesome. I’m so proud of myself for not giving up even though online was so hard.”
Mekanak was surprised to find he had made the school’s honour roll, “I worked so hard for that.” He said of the past two years of online schooling, “It was very challenging, but I pushed myself to get up and to work hard.”
Head said of students recently returning to the school after two years of online learning, “It was just new energy in the building. For two years, when we worked out of this school, it was just staff and there was just no energy and you could see, even in the energy of our staff, just a decline over those two years. Our students walked in the door, and it just lifted up. They were happy, smiling, they wanted to be here, our staff wanted them here. Staff are really passionate about their students; they really care for them. So, when they saw them walk in the door it brought a whole new energy to the building and it really just brough life where we didn’t have it for two years and it was just amazing.”
Reflecting on this year’s graduation Head concluded, “This is very special, as much for the students and staff and their parents and families. We were going down a road where we were saying, ‘can we ever do this again?’ ‘Will it every be normal again?’ And now here we are in some kind of normal. It’s a new normal, but it’s a normal and it’s just a relief for everybody. It’s like you spend two years walking in the dark, in the wilderness and all of a sudden, you’ve found your path again, it’s a relief. It’s a celebration.”
Graduating students for the 2021-2022 school year were: Jericho Crane - Slate Falls, Jacey Kakepetum – Keewaywin, Christian Ananias Mamakwa-Suggashie – Kingfisher, Jules Meekis-Aganash - Deer Lake,
Sara Meekis - Deer Lake, Taneisha Meekis - Deer Lake, Ezerial Jordan Mekanak – Kingfisher, Benjamin Morriseau – Weagamow, Waylon Jethro Muckuck – Mishkeegogamang, Allan Jr. Thunder O’Keese – Kasabonika, Marissa Owen - Poplar Hill, and Brayden Suggashie - Poplar Hill.