It was an emotional and spiritual journey for students, parents and community at the Indigenous Graduation Ceremony held at Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS) on May 25.
The ceremony, to celebrate the achievements of Indigenous students graduating from high school this year, was held for a total of 26 students from schools in District 53, with families and community members watching the ceremony unfold at OSS.
Indigenous Grad is a special ceremony held for students with Indigenous roots to commemorate their progress as a student and perseverance through factors such as generational trauma that may have made their journey difficult.
Indigenous Grad also adds traditional teachings and a new sense of community to the milestone event.
Students from OSS, Oliver’s South Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS), and Keremeos’ Similkameen Elementary Secondary School were welcomed into the Theatre with an opening prayer and the Okanagan Song.
Guests then watched the graduates get blanketed by their families as their future plans were shared, medicine pouches given while they listened to words of advice for their future endeavours.
The valedictorians then took the stage to share their personal stories of their experiences in high school and stories that struck them throughout their journey.
The ceremony then ended with parting words from Bev Young, Superintendent of School District 53, and a closing prayer as students walked off the stage. The ceremony was a spiritual and powerful experience for grads and attendees alike.
For parents of students that are graduating, Indigenous Grad is an emotional yet prideful moment in their life. Naomi Etty, Indigenous advocate at OSS and mother of OSS Valedictorian Peightyn Etty said: “It’s such an honour to represent our other advocates and honour our youth”.
Though the moment is one to be proud of, Naomi could not help but feel a little emotional as well. “I am very proud and very honoured to see her represent our nation and our cultures.” Adults who have also been involved in the grads’ lives were proud to see them on the stage.
Young added that the ceremony for her was a very happy moment. “I could see a lot of pride in the students and their families, which was very touching.”
Students at the ceremony were incredibly excited and nervous, as graduation means both the end of a chapter as well as a beginning of a new one. SOSS graduate Mila Poznikoff mentioned that the ceremony was “very exciting”, and she also touched on how important it is to acknowledge the struggles Indigenous students may go through to get to this point.
“I think it’s really great to see a lot of Indigenous students graduating, especially since this has been a struggle for Indigenous people,” Victoria Ritcher, an Indigenous graduate from Similkameen Elementary Secondary School commented.
She added that throughout the ceremony she was “very nervous, but it was good to see everybody that came out”. She also described the ceremony as “a well-spirited time”.
Some grads felt more sentiment about the ceremony, such as Peightyn Etty who remembers “feeling very nervous, but proud of the experience,” and about high school and “super excited’’ about graduating.