Fernie Secondary School graduation ceremonies were held this past week with events spread out over several days. Wednesday saw the banquet held at Traynor Hall for the grads and teachers, Thursday was convocation and awards at the Fernie Memorial Arena and Friday was the Prom with photos in front of City hall and marching to the Community Center where the prom was held.

I attended the Thursday event as I presented the Dr. Sparling East and Mary East award to Valedictorian Audrey Sims and enjoyed the event that had principal Erin Hay as master of ceremonies. A processional of graduates in black cap and gown walking from the back of the arena to their seats in front of the stage was followed everyone singing of our national anthem of Oh Canada. A lovely welcome was delivered by Heidi Gravelle of the Tobacco Plains Indian Band in native tongue and English and a message from School District #5 superintendent Viveka Johnson, who said she was happy “to be there to celebrate the incredible achievements of FSS students. Passion and enthusiasm of education is a lifelong journey, be curious, never stop asking questions, always believe in yourself”.

Mayor Nic Milligan brought a message from the City of Fernie saying it was “an honor to be here as it is 40 years to this day that I graduated from this same place, school is a community of teachers, staff, students and everyone, it is a credit to you to lead each day with optimism and passion and treat everyone with the same respect no matter who they are or their position.”

Principal Hay spoke next, saying she was glad to have met them all, that they are “an amazing group of people, this class was solid, persevering and with challenges, Covid challenges too, but your perseverance was an honor and it’s a pleasure to be part of your graduation. Your parents are your biggest cheerleaders to get you to this day, I know your teachers helped and challenged you, you have a good foundation and support that got you this far.”

Next was the presentation of commencement certificates and bursaries read by Ms. Rachel Romero and Mme Danielle Gibson with the first award offered being the prestigious Governor General Award presented by principal Erin Hay to Finn Piney.

This year there was a whopping $87,000 provided to students that applied for scholarships with most getting more than one and Aysha Hide receiving what seemed the largest number.

The valedictorian address was presented by Audrey Sims who began by welcoming everyone present and stating what an honor and privilege it was to represent the FSS graduating class of 2023.

As the building was full to capacity, I am including some of that Miss Sims wrote as it was meaningful and I’m sure there were many who had difficulty hearing it clearly.

Miss Sims said, “I would firstly like to begin with a few thank yous to everyone involved in getting us to this day. For the past six years everyone from teachers, staff, coaches and athletic department, custodial staff, support services and Parent Advisory Council have generously contributed to our education and high school experiences. So truly thank you for putting up with us for this long, it couldn’t have been easy. Thank you to the grad committee for making today happen, they have volunteered hours and listened to our concerns and wishes and have organized a graduation we couldn’t be happier with. I also want to thank our parents and guardians from diapers to diplomas, they have supported us through each phase of our lives, they have been and will continue to be our biggest cheerleaders, our sources of love, support, and guidance.

Lasty, thank you to my classmates for making the last few years just a little bit easier and nothing short of memorable. We are all unique individuals with experiences, challenges and ambitions all thickening the plot of our own stories. Today, we will cherish our last moment as a class and recognize how we contributed to writing part of story together. Growing up in the small town of Fernie has been a privilege that I haven’t fully appreciated until I now contend with parting with the sense of security, community, and familiarity we have created here. We have been so fortunate to be raised by mountains and a village of incredible people. For many of us we have spent the last 18 years of life together, we have seen each other at our humblest and proudest moments, particularly over the last few years, we have overcome many challenges and were required to be creative, adaptable, and resilient, together we persevered and have officially made it to the very day we dreamt of since we were young.

I will forever cherish my time with the French immersion family. Although obliged to speak in French our gossip was always too good to not be spoken in English, I never thought I would miss Mme Danielle, saying “parler en francais” but I already do. Today we reminisce about the good and bad times, the setbacks faced and recognize the growth accomplished. Today is a new beginning, the start of a new journey that will have challenges, yet I am certain each of you has the means to overcome them. For years, Ms. Forefield has taught us that every great story must have some form of conflict, whether that be internal or external it is necessary for character development. Through school years we are constantly measured by grades, the number of scholarships or awards we receive, the number of friends we have or how many gotchas we earned in elementary school. Today none of that matter, I encourage you to evaluate your own high school experience by the memories you’ve made, the connections you’ve created and most importantly the person you have grown to become.

Although there is no true measurement of heart, it is evident that sitting in front of me is a bright group of individuals with kind hearts, big aspirations, and a drive for success. I am confident that each single one of you will be successful in life, whatever success may look like to you. You have the potential for greatness so never settle for anything less than you deserve, may you find and surround yourself with people that bring out the best version of you. I hope to follow along with each of your stories, whether that be virtual or firsthand. I am excited to watch the future you all hold. As we transition into our next chapter of life, I want to say thank you all for being part of my story. I am so proud of you all, I’m going to miss you guys so much. Congratulations class of 2023.”

Closing remarks were given by principal Hay followed by the traditional hat toss.

It never gets old to watch graduation ceremonies, each year brings fresh faces full of hope and excitement to begin the next part of life’s journey. The graduates always look so beautiful in cap and gown and absolutely dazzle in the most stunning of designer dresses and the boys handsome in suites.

Congratulations class of 2023, may your future be so bright and your challenges be educational in every way.

By Mary Giuliano

Mary arrived in Fernie in May of 1953 and has lived here ever since, by choice, because she loves the Elk Valley and everything it stands for. Read more from Mary here.

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