Adorned in purple and gold, 120 grade 12 students and 70 OACs crossed the stage at the Memorial Sports Centre last Wednesday for the Fort Frances High School graduation ceremony.
Following the customary entrance to Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” and the invocation by Rev. Gerald Van Smeerdyk, FFHS principal Ian Simpson took the podium to talk at length about the past year.
He extended thanks to teachers, parents, and students alike for making 2000-01 a “banner year.”
“I would like you to recognize your fellow students in this graduating class,” he said to the graduates which filled the seats on the floor of the arena.
“Some of these faces were there when you were in kindergarten. others came in to the picture when you entered the halls of Fort Frances High School for the first time as a grade nine students.
“These are the faces of the people who have shared your experiences, been there for your successes, and stood beside you when times were not so good.
“Look carefully at these faces,” he continued. “Remember them and look to them in the future for support and friendship. Do not forget these fellow members of your graduating class.
“Make them a strong base for all your future endeavours,” he stressed.
Simpson concluded with a quote from Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head/You have feet in your shoes/You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
Simpson also called the graduates “an exceptional group” during an interview Tuesday.
“As a result of the increased workload for teachers, there wasn’t as much time them to be involved with student activities as they previously had been,” he noted. “That could have been disastrous for the school.
“The impact’s been felt but it wasn’t disastrous because of the leadership skills of the students to be self-starters,” he added. “The kids have really stepped up, and they’ve assumed roles they haven’t normally had to assume, and gained valuable experience from that.”
Simpson also said the students have been commended for their maturity not only within the community, but during their travels to events like the OFSAA hockey finals in Burlington and other championship games.
He also noted the greater importance of parental involvement.
“Normally, parents are involved at the elementary level. But this year, the amount of parent volunteers has increased multi-fold,” he remarked. “The community has stepped up as well.”
Mark Mercure, president of the student executive council, followed Simpson with a speech about his time at Fort High—and the difference between being a grade 12 grad last year and an OAC recipient this year.
“It’s a little anti-climactic. It’s a sense of déja vu, like you’ve been there before and it’s only a formality,” he said.
“The sense of laziness that goes along with OACs—you can walk around in pyjamas. You’re the kings of the school so you just don’t care,” he joked, although at least one OAC grad was spotted wearing PJs under his gown.
But Mercure’s light-hearted speech had a point. “This graduation’s really for the grade 12s so they should enjoy it as much as they can,” he remarked.
Like Ellwood, Mercure said students were more active in organizing events than in previous years. “It was good for the students overall,” he said. “We had to pick up the slack a little, and think they should be mentioned for that.”
And after that, all the grads made their way across the stage, receiving their diplomas, certificates, and any bursaries (please see the grad supplement with today’s Times for the list).
Not noted in the supplement were Lindsey Hallikas and Emily Gibb, each of whom got the leading student awards and gold medals (for having the highest final standings) for grades 12 and OAC respectively.
Gibb also received the Governor General’s Medal as the student who achieved the highest academic standing in their final year.
These last honours were revealed only at the ceremony and thus not included in the program.
Grade 12 valedictorian Kim Badiuk then gave her rather personal address.
“It amazes me to look out at everyone here, and to think that only four short years ago, I couldn’t lift my eyes off the floor long enough to see anyone’s face.
“You were all just a bunch of shoes to me for the first week.
“First impressions last forever. You walk down the hall thinking every distinguishable word’s your name, and you get nervous,” she said. “Eventually, I looked up, and even walked to class by myself. These experiences are what makes you grow.
“The last four years have given us the experiences that will last a lifetime,” she added. “Through the good times and the bad times, we’ve grown and we’ve learned. We have been given chances to taste life, to make our mistakes, and to triumph.”
Badiuk concluded her speech by asking the other graduates to always dream, believe, hope, and never give up. “This our chance to shine,” she remarked.
A “chem-free” grad party followed at the arena around 10:30 p.m., where 117 of the grade 12 grads let loose.
“It was amazing,” said Diane Noonan, who co-organized the event along with Linda Steele and a committee of other parents. “The kids had a riot. Some of the kids said they’d never had a better time in their lives.
“And there was absolutely no incidents whatsoever,” she added, referring to the party’s drug- and alcohol-free policy.
The event offered lots for the grads to do, including “mock gambling,” inflatable sumo suits, a boxing ring, a “bungee run,” music, dancing, snacks, playing video games, and eating contests with watermelons and whipped cream.
The party ended at 4 a.m.
“It was well-run and it was run safely,” noted Simpson.
The “chem-free” grad was made possible through the sponsorship of several local businesses as well as donations from the community.