The Ice For Kids Arena was abuzz with excitement and camera flashes last Thursday night as 178 graduates of Fort Frances High School gathered sporting purple caps and gowns.
Although there was a spirited air about graduation, an underlying sentiment was noted by many as the students said farewell to classmates and prepared to take their first step into the unknown.
Following the customary entrance to Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” FFHS principal Peg Keffer took the podium and challenged the graduates to “make a positive difference in the world.”
“Over the past few years, making a difference has been echoing through the halls of Fort High and the community within them,” Keffer noted.
“We have seen the differences many of you have made.
“Moving forward from your life at Fort Frances High School will be different for all of you,” she acknowledged. “[But] the main job you have now to do is go forward and continue making a difference.”
This concept was expanded on by valedictorian Julianna Donaldson, who reflected on her time at Fort High in her address.
“The audience behind you, the staff to your right, and the halls and walls of high school each assisted in forming your identity,” she said.
“We helped each other grow into the incredible adults that we are today.
“So thank you for showing me that together, we are the change,” she concluded.
Although Donaldson admitted standing at the podium was “nerve-racking,” she said writing the speech itself was a breeze.
As a matter of fact, she wrote it long before she was voted as the class valedictorian.
“The theme resonated with me and I love writing,” Donaldson remarked.
“I think I’ve always been sentimental so it was pretty easy for me.”
Other topics addressed in her speech included being thankful, cherishing the moment, and slowing down.
“High school really showed me a lot,” Donaldson said.
“Just seeing the way that people connected kind of makes it hard to leave.”
Aside from teaching her the value of community, Donaldson noted her time at Fort High also reinforced her desire to embark on a developmental services work diploma at Confederation College in Thunder Bay.
“Being the leader of the ‘Best Buddies’ program was probably the highlight for me,” she said, referring to her time with students who have intellectual and physical disabilities.
“I had been planning on taking [the diploma] since Grade 8 but the ‘Buddies’ program really solidified that,” she remarked.
Lorianne Dueck also felt that her time at Fort High helped her recognize her potential moving forward.
She was one of the evening’s top award recipients—having received the Governor General’s Medal and the Leading Student Award, as well as being recognized as an Ontario Scholar.
“I worked really hard all throughout high school so I was pretty excited to receive them,” Dueck said.
“I always tried my best and it paid off in the end, so I was thankful about that.”
Dueck admitted she had been anticipating convocation for months as she is eager to embark on her venture to Bible school in Europe this fall.
But when the time came to walk across the stage to receive her diploma, Dueck said she found herself feeling sentimental.
“The final weeks of school, we were all just done,” she laughed, citing university applications and exams as the reason for their exhaustion.
“I think we were all ready to graduate and start this new section of our lives because we have been planning it all for so long,” she added.
“That’s why Julianna’s speech about enjoying the moment was really good because I felt like we had all been rushing this last little bit,” Dueck noted.
“It was pretty special message for everybody.”