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A few questions with J.A. Williams valedictorian

Lac La Biche Graduation feature: Q&A with JAWS Valedictorian Lara Birkill

It wasn't the way Lara Birkill planned to spend the last official day with her Grade 12 classmates, but the Valedictorian of Lac La Biche's J.A. Williams High School Grad Class of 2020 says she and her classmates are taking it in stride.

"The distinction of the COVID 19 grad class is for sure a topic in many conversations these days, and it will make an interesting story for years to come," she tells the POST as the JAWS grad class prepares for their virtual convocation and community parade on June 26.

The POST asked this year's valedictorian some questions about schooling during a pandemic and the suports she has received from family, school staff and the community.

POST:  On a schoolwork level … what were your Grade 12 marks like? 

Lara: Throughout the years I’ve been encouraged to work hard in school and it has payed off as my grades were high enough to get me accepted into my first choice university program.

POST: Is there a subject you enjoy more than others?

Lara: Yes! I really enjoyed most of the subjects I got to take however, the creative aspect of grade 12 English definitely puts it in the top spot. Plus, I had an amazing teacher for that class who made it interesting and engaging and who really inspired me to pursue my dreams. (shout-out to Mrs. Strom-Brocklesby!)

POST: Where will your next education path take you?

Lara: It’s taking me to the Augustana campus of the University of Alberta for a degree in science. (hopefully the classes won’t be online for long).

POST: What has been a highlight of your high school years?

Lara: Definitely all the sports I got to play! Playing volleyball and basketball and participating in track and field with my friends was undoubtedly the highlight of my high school years. 

POST: How are you preparing for virtual convocation?  Will you wear your cap and gown as you watch?

Lara:  As the convocation is after our graduation parade I will most likely be wearing my grad dress (and cap to make it feel more official) as I watch with my family.

POST:  JAWS principal Conal Donovan says in his address that your class has been one of the most memorable — why do you think that is?

Lara: Many teachers in the school would definitely agree that our graduating class is a special one! This class is full of so much energy and potential. I’d like to think we’ll be remembered for our strong and very distinct personalities as well as our epic senses of humour.

POST: With emphasis on movements like Black Lives Matter — do you feel that a high school education in a very cultural small community can help to reduce stereotypes?  Does it make you a more well-rounded global citizen to grow up in a close-knit community?

Lara:  Lac la biche definitely has a very diverse cultural base. Growing up in a community such as this one has given me the benefit of learning about many different cultures. 

POST: What will you miss most about secondary school?

Lara: Without a doubt I will miss representing JAWS as an athlete the most as well as going to school everyday and being surrounded by the familiar faces I’ve grown up with.


Lara Birkill  J. A. Williams High School Class of 2020 Valedictorian speech:

Good afternoon family, friends, and fellow students and welcome to the J A Williams High School class of 2020’s graduation ceremony. Though this graduation isn’t like any other JAWS has had before, it is still a very significant milestone in our young lives, and it should be celebrated. The graduating class of 2020 has faced many challenges in this last year of school, and we have all shown the courage to rise up to the occasion and continue to grow in these trying times. We should all be very proud.

However, we could not have done this alone.

I would like to extend gratitude towards the teachers and staff of JAWS for the ongoing support they have shown, not only during the months of online classes this year, but for the support they’ve given us throughout our entire four years at this school.

And to the parents, guardians, and grandparents, we thank you for your encouragement and guidance that has been constant throughout the years. Thank you for driving us to and from our sports games, dance lessons, and first jobs. Your contributions to our success does not go unnoticed or unappreciated, so thank you.

In 2016, Mr. Donovan came to our middle school to welcome us as the new incoming grade nine JAWS students. In this assembly, he asked us if we have 2020 vision yet. His joke was met with absolute silence and about 100 blank, staring faces. On that spring day, this joke had me wondering about how the year of 2020 would look and what the years until then would bring. Thinking back to that moment now, I realize that no one truly knows what is to come. No one has “2020” vision of what the future holds. I mean, who would have guessed that we’d be watching our own graduation online in this hectic year of change.

 However, just because we didn’t get the graduation we all imagined, does not mean that this diploma is worth any less. And it doesn’t mean your hard work these past 12 years is going to go unnoticed or unrewarded.

We started at JAWS as kids. And now, four years later in the memorable year of two thousand and twenty, we leave this school as semi functional young adults who not only now know that the bell never actually dismissed us, but that we are entering the world in a time of great change. However, we should not let the uncertainty of this change scare us. Instead, we should adapt to it, learn from it, or even become a part of it.

On this day, a chapter of our lives is coming to an end. From here, we will pursue further education, join the workforce, or attempt to figure out what exactly we want to do for the rest of our lives. No matter what you decide to do, I know that this generation is capable of great things.

And even though your answer to Mr. Donovan’s joke is most likely no, you don’t have 2020 vision of the future, our class has shown that we can still thrive in the face of anything.

Be proud of how far you’ve come and of how far you’ll go.

Class of 2020, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.

Congratulations and stay safe in your celebrations!

Thank you, dankie, en goeie dag