I’ve been to a few graduation ceremonies in the past, but none were as emotional and memorable as the one that I recently went to in Tuktoyaktuk on June 20.
The 2019 graduating class at Mangilaluk School is the largest the school has seen in 28 years of existence. Twenty-one students received their high school diplomas that day. The majority were young adults ready to face the world, while some were parents and even grandparents.
There wasn’t a dry eye in sight. It was a momentous day – not just for the graduates, but for their family, friends and their community as well. To have a graduating class of this magnitude is an achievement for the entire hamlet.
I know how challenging it is for Northern youth to find success in the current education system.
Statistics Canada revealed that there were a total of 309,369 high school graduates across the nation in 2016. Of those, only 367 came from the NWT. The numbers illustrate that receiving a high school diploma in the North – especially in a rural community such as Tuktoyaktuk – is unimaginable for many students.
But the recent graduates from Mangilaluk School have defied that narrative and given hope to many. They’ve proven that everyone is capable of achieving academic success, no matter how old they are or how difficult their environment may be.
For many of the graduates, they are one of the few members in their families to have obtained a high school diploma. They’re role models and heroes to their younger siblings, parents and even strangers.
I was told by many of the staff members who taught the graduates that the key to this group’s success was the strong bond that the students shared with one another. They made sure that no one was left behind, and they viewed graduating as a group effort rather than an individual achievement.
Thanks to this cohort, an entire generation of youth in the community now aspire to be just like them – if not better. Parents and grandparents will consider going back to school to finish off what’s left of their high school credits.
The grads have rewritten history and introduced this notion that academic success can be best achieved by working together, rather than doing it alone. More importantly, they’ve demonstrated on a large scale that obtaining your high school diploma is not an impossible feat in the North.