It was all Pomp and Circumstance as the Merritt Secondary School (MSS) Panthers graduating class held their annual graduation march and ceremony on Thursday (June 22). Over 100 students graduated from the school this year, ending a thirteen year educational journey, with the real journey just beginning.

Graduates gathered for photos and conversations with peers and family on school grounds, before embarking on a police-escorted march through the downtown core to the ceremony site at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. The ceremony was presided over by MSS Vice-Principal Gian Cavaliere, and included speeches and bursary presentations by district and school staff, local community groups, elected officials, and local Indigenous representation in the form of drumming and a prayer to open the ceremony.

Marius Auer/Herald

Cavaliere noted that ensuring the red carpet is rolled out for graduates is key to ensuring the community retains them. 

“We only have one high school in this town, and I always feel that the high school should be the heart of the community, so I think it’s important that our youth are celebrated, and it’s done in the right way, so that a lot of them will stay in Merritt,” said Cavaliere, whose own nephew graduated this year as well.

“I think we lose a lot of our kids to other locations and other opportunities, and then some come back, but it would be great if more came back and helped be a part of that goal, and help lay that same foundation for future kids. It’s important that kids are show love and care, and that even though you graduated, it doesn’t mean we’re going away, if you need support or help, we’re always going to be here.” 

Throughout the course of the ceremony, graduates collected their diplomas and moved their tassels before walking down the aisle through the crowd filled with proud parents, friends, family, and community members. The school also have out tens of thousands in scholarships and bursaries, including more than a dozen students who will study at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology’s Merritt campus this fall through the school’s Immediate Entry Bursary. 

Following the ceremony and traditional toss of graduate’s caps, graduates joined their families to celebrate the occasion and take photos. On Saturday, graduates gathered once again for the annual grad parade and subsequent prom, with this year’s theme being Hollywood. Grads dressed up and were escorted by a number of vehicles and other transportation methods in a procession through downtown Merritt, where hundreds gathered to cheer on their successes.

“This has been a 13 year journey for these students, so it does need to be a really special event,” said Dave Andersen, also a vice-principal at the school. “They’ve put in years and years of hard work to get here. It should be special for the students and for the families too, I think it’s important to honour all of those families’ contributions, and community people that put time and energy into raising these young people. It’s just a great celebration for our whole community.”

Marius Auer/Herald

MSS graduation is a collaborative effort between the school district, MSS, students, teachers, and parents who put in countless hours to ensure the success of students is celebrated on a large scale.