In many ways, last Thursday’s graduation ceremony for Fort Frances High School was a night of “lasts.”
The class of ’99 was the last to graduate out of old Fort High on First Street East. And, with the year 2000 right around the corner, it was the last class to graduate in this century (and millennium).
But for the students who walked across the stage Thursday, the evening had an even greater significance—it marked the last time they would be together as a whole.
It was a realization that dawned suddenly on graduate Ria Cuthbertson.
“I always wondered what the big deal was with graduation, then it hit me,” she said during her address as president of the Student Executive Council.
“All these people I’ve had classes with and partied with are leaving,” she noted. “The class of ’99 will never be all together again.”
It was an evening primed for nostalgia. Principal Terry Ellwood told the graduates to carry the memories and traditions of the five previous generations that had graduated from old Fort High.
“You are the bridge between the 20th and 21st century,” Ellwood said. “Sadly, many [of you] won’t make the trip to the new school. But you certainly can come and visit.”
Meanwhile, valedictorian Andrea McKinnon reminisced over the past four years, recalling what it felt like to be back in grade nine and how each of them had their “embarrassing” moments.
“My first memory of Jason Wiersema is the day we were sitting in math class and he was trying to copy an answer off his neighbour,” McKinnon said.
“He leaned over a little too far and flipped his desk right over—to make it even worse, he was stuck down there for quite a while,” she added.
McKinnon, herself, remembered getting lost the minute she walked into the school, and walking straight into a trophy case at full speed later on that day.
She rehashed several achievements by individual students and sports teams, and thanked many teachers and parents for all they’ve done to get the graduates to their special night.
McKinnon also paid tribute to student Nina Coran, who passed last year while in grade 11.
“The way I will always remember Nina is with a smile—she always had something sweet to say,” she recalled. “Even though she is not here with us in person, her spirit is with us in our hearts and we will always remember her.”
Meanwhile, McKinnon’s advice to her fellow graduates was always smile, dream, remember your friends are gold, never tell your parents where the party is, and (to Steve Foster) no more table dancing in Barwick.
She also added this axiom from a best friend: “Work like you’ve never been paid, love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like nobody is watching.”
“We are a unique and special class,” McKinnon stressed. “Not only are we the last graduating class of the century but we are also the last class to graduate from the old Fort High.
“They were obviously saving the best for last.
“As we meet for the last time as a complete group tonight, let us remember all the good times we had,” she concluded. “And no tears because I think you’ve all seen me cry one too many times.”