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École Plamondon valedictorian looks past pandemic hurdles

Speech to École Plamondon grads had focus on classmates, not COVID

PLAMONDON - École Plamondon High School students class of 2022 officially graduated on June 25. The small group of 26 students spent the afternoon not only celebrating their accomplishments during an “Evening in Paris” Parisian-themed ceremony, but also enjoyed a farewell gathering with family and friends, said Justine Kononchuk, the school's valedictorian.  

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic altering social events, it was a milestone to remember, she said. 

“It was so special because considering that we missed out on so many sports, so many events in our high school, it was nice that we were able to come together. We were the first official grad in a while where we could get together without any limits, without any masks—that was really special,” she told Lakeland This Week.  

One of the roles and responsibilities that comes with the valedictorian title is a speech to recognize and honour the graduating class. Kononchuk says while the COVID-19 pandemic has played a huge factor for the class of 2022, she wanted to highlight the positive experiences she has seen in her classmates since moving to Plamondon from Grassland in Grade 11. 

“We went through COVID together, we grew up together. We eventually made it through the global pandemic but I didn’t want to focus on that… I thought that our graduation was about us; it wasn’t about that,” she said, focusing her speech how special graduating together was, and the special memories the class of 2022 will remember as they move forward. 

Milestone accomplished 

For staff and faculty at the Northern Lights Public School (NLPS), it was a heartwarming moment to commemorate the 26 students, during a small intimate gathering that allowed students to also invite up to 15 guests for the event at Plamondon’s Festival Place, said Principal Karen Grygus.

“Being able to send this group of kids off just filled my heart with pride. They have gone through a lot, some of them personally; and some of them as a whole group due to COVID,”she said. “A small graduating class allows us those opportunities…it was a full hall this year which is different from last year when we were outside and the year before was very, very limited.” 

While watching every single Grade 12 student work hard towards completing their education through a global crisis that created a multitude of challenges, the group of 26 deserves all the recognition, said Grygus. 

“I’m really glad to say that every graduate that walked that stage actually has a diploma in their hand and they all met the requirements to graduate.” 

In attendance for the convocation was Lac La Biche County Mayor Paul Reutov, Northern Lights Public Schools trustee Blair Norton, NLPS’ director of learning inclusive education and community sports Grace MacLellan, and county councillor Colette Borgun. Fort-McMurray-Cold Lake MP Laila Goodridge wasn’t expected to attend, but did. 

“It’s the first time we’ve had an MP come to our graduation in a very long time. She took that opportunity and honoured us with her presence,” said Grygus. 

Life after high school 

As Kononchuk gears up for life after high school, she will be attending MacEwan University this fall, enrolled in the Bachelor of Commerce program. 

“I hope to finish my Degree there and eventually go to U of A for Physiotherapy afterwards,” she said, but adding that the recent obstacles and challenges she has faced with her classmates has taught good lessons in pivoting and adapting. “Plans tend to change — but that’s the plan right now.” 

Looking out at her classmates and families as she read her speech, Kononchuk said the emotions that come with the end of school are bittersweet. She’s happy everyone is moving forward, and hopes they remember their good times together. 

“Being around home, hanging out with my friends from high school and my hometown…that’s going to be the biggest thing I’ll miss.”  

The École Plamondon Valedictorian was one of several awards, scholarship and bursary recipients awarded at the convocation ceremonies. Kononchuk will receive $2,000 from MacEwan University for tuition expenses, and $1,000 from NLPS’ through the Xerox Scholarship Award. 

Graduation Awards: 

Legacy Award-Jade Kupchanko

Heart Citizenship Award- Jonah Ganovicheff and Jade Kupchanko

Perseverance Awards- Val Samoilov and Jemuel Palpalatoc 

MLA Citizenship Award- Connor Proulx 

MP Award- Jemuel Palpalatoc 

Valedictorian and Governor General Award for Academic Achievement- Justine Kononochuk 

Outstanding Students- Alicia Haxby and Connor Proulx 

About the Author: Rahma Dalmar

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