VIDEO: Journey of SD62 Aboriginal graduates recognized at ceremony

‘Enriching and empowering’ ceremony encourages students to hold onto their identities

The sun warmed Na’tsa’maht at Camosun College Wednesday as high school grads looked to the future with their families and teachers smiling on.

Valedictorian A.J. Boersen was recently accepted to Camosun College’s comic and graphic novels program. His advice for getting through hard times is to ask for help when you need it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

The Sooke School District 62 (SD62) Aboriginal graduate recognition ceremony was a place of warmth, support and acknowledgement, with the welcoming cedar logs of Na’tsa’maht – a Salish phrase that means “unity” or “working together as one” – encircling the district’s Indigenous graduates.

Students from Belmont, Edward Milne, Royal Bay and West Shore Centre for Learning and Training were acknowledged by elders and dignitaries.

“They already have a graduation at their schools so what we do is we recognize them for their journey through the public system….” said Kathleen King, SD62 principal of Aboriginal education. “What’s really important about this is to acknowledge identity, to bring forward the culture and the traditions through our local first nations community, through the land and the territory we’re standing on and for all of that to be a learning experience so that the students can feel that [the] ceremony is empowering, enriching, and giving them that opportunity to explore more or continue on with their culture.”

READ ALSO: More B.C. Indigenous students graduating high school: report

Taylor Farmer, from T’Sou-ke First Nation, was one of four valedictorians. Before the ceremony, the Edward Milne Community School grad learned she had been accepted to the Indigenous Family Support program at Camosun College.

“Being here today with everyone that has been there to support me, especially the Aboriginal support workers, definitely made it a lot more special,” she said. “And knowing it’s my culture and getting back in touch with that this year, has really helped.”

Valedictorian Taylor Farmer is headed to Camosun College in the fall for the Indigenous Family Support program. The Edward Milne graduate says “anything you think you can’t overcome, you can.”

Farmer said during Grade 12 she made a bigger effort to connect with her culture when she realized she couldn’t communicate with the elders that visited her school.

Her words of advice? “Anything that you think you can’t overcome, you can. And that took me a long time – almost the whole four years – to realize.”

A.J. Boersen, another valedictorian, said the journey to graduation had been hard – but worth it.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “I’ve been through about eight different foster families and six different schools. It’s been a hard journey.”

Boersen, of the Ditidaht First Nation from the Nitinaht region, graduated from Belmont Secondary School and was accepted to Camosun College’s comics and graphic novels program.

“Art is one of the best ways I express myself,” he said. “It gets me through my hard times.”

As students acknowledged their families, friends and partners, they were reminded that the support of their community and culture would be unwavering as they moved forward in life.

And with smiles, cheers and sunbeams glowing inside Na’tsa’maht, the future certainly looks bright.

READ ALSO: High school graduation rates on the rise in Greater Victoria



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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Scott Stinson, SD62 superintendent of schools and the ceremony’s MC, perfomed an ‘O Siem’ song for parents and educators who helped the students along their journey to graduation. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

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