ASHMONT - The class of 2021 was celebrated for its many achievements during an afternoon ceremony on June 3 at the Ashmont School gymnasium. This year's celebration was once again different, as protocols continue to be in place due to the pandemic.
Ahead of the celebrations, the ceremony began with a sombre reminder in the gymnasium. Students and staff stood still during 215 seconds of silence, in honour of the 215 children discovered in an unmarked grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Then, speeches were given in honour of the graduates and celebrations began.
Principal Keith Gamblin encouraged graduates for their hard work, perseverance and determination. He also acknowledged the enormous challenges and obstacles that students have faced over the past year, many due to the pandemic.
Along with the students, parents and guardians are also to be congratulated, said Gamblin.
"You have been a wonderful group of parents to work with," he said.
While many of the graduates may have anxiety and trepidation over the future, Gamblin said he had faith they were well prepared to move on. He encouraged them to put themselves out there, and take risks.
He recalled how his decision to return to Ashmont School as principal just a couple years ago was a risk, and while there were difficulties and struggles, it was one of the best decisions he's ever made. Gamblin will now be moving on to take on a position as assistant superintendent with St. Paul Education in the next school year.
A number of other special guests offered congratulations and encouragement through virtual messages, including St. Paul Education board chair Heather Starosielski, MP Shannon Stubbs, and Frog Lake Chief Greg Desjarlais.
Desjarlais encouraged First Nations students to be part of ceremony, and told all students to "love one another, love yourself."
Coun. Grey Eagle Cardinal from Kehewin Cree Nation offered his congratulations to students, and shared a song, via virtual message.
Coun. John Large from Saddle Lake Cree Nation reminded students that all their hard work and the long bus rides were worth it to achieve their high school diplomas. He also told graduates to continue on with their education, keep focused and "never forget where you came from."
Chief Stan Houle of Whitefish Lake First Nation delivered his message, noting students have been through a "tough year."
Valedictorian Kirsten McGilvery addressed fellow graduates, saying she was shocked by the honour of being named valedictorian. She said she was proud of her classmates and said it felt "surreal" that their time had come to an end at Ashmont School.
She told graduates to take the time to enjoy life.
Students were then presented with their graduation portfolios and eagle feathers as they crossed the stage in the gymnasium. The school also held drive-thru graduation ceremonies to honour the students.