Caps flew in the air for the first time in Merritt last week, with School District 58’s (SD58) Aboriginal Graduation marking the beginning of the 2022 grad ceremony season. Graduates and their friends and families gathered at Merritt’s NVIT campus for traditionally-based graduation processions.
It was a record breaking year for Indigenous graduates, with an all time high of 91 students graduating from the district this year. While not all of these graduates were present at the ceremony, it was back and better than ever after a pandemic-caused hiatus.
“This is probably our first Indigenous community event since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it was great to have people coming together,” said Jameel Aziz, assistant superintendent for SD58.
“It felt wonderful. There were familiar faces, new faces, and a lot of smiling and handshaking. I think it’s really an opportunity to bring our students together. They come from urban centres, but many of them come from our Indigenous communities around Merritt. It’s a time for all of that extended family to come and take pride in the contributions they made to that student’s success.”
The district has held an Aboriginal graduation ceremony for many years, recognizing the need for one as a part of reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities who were historically underserved and mistreated within the school system. According to a recent C.D. Howe Institute study, only 48 per cent of First Nations Canadians in their early 20s living on a reserve have finished high school.
With graduation rates being much lower for Indigenous students, Indigenous-led education has become a growing trend within school districts across the country, including SD58. Initiatives like these have seen great success, and Aziz says they are invaluable to the district and its student base.
“Our district, like other public school districts across the province, historically did not serve our Aboriginal communities very well in terms of making sure our students and families had the support they needed to reach their grade 12 requirements and be able to cross the stage,” added Aziz.
“It used to be more of a rarity than a commonality for many of our Indigenous families to graduate, and I’m pleased to say that’s not the case anymore. It’s still important to take the time to recognize the accomplishments of our Indigenous students and hold them up as role models for younger students coming through the system.”
On top of promoting Indigenous-led education within the district, Aboriginal Graduation is an opportunity for graduates to explore one of their possible post-secondary choices, Merritt’s own Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT), where the ceremony takes place.
NVIT offers both Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates an Immediate Entry Bursary, which pays their tuition costs for up to two years if they transition immediately to the campus after graduating from high school.
“Grade 12 is certainly an achievable goal. It’s just the beginning of making some big important changes for their improved life chances.”
For more information on SD58’s Aboriginal Education program and their available resources, visit abed.sd58.bc.ca.