Aurora College convocation ceremonies usually acknowledge the importance of perseverance and overcoming odds.
The classes of 2020 and 2021 put a little bit more of a special emphasis on that point June 10.
There were 133 graduates recognized throughout the day in Yellowknife’s Somba K’e Civic plaza with convocation ceremonies also held at the Thebacha Campus in Fort Smith and the Aurora Campus in Inuvik Friday, June 11.
Yellowknifer attended the first of three ceremonies which recognized 39 of 90 graduates from six programs who came from all over the Northwest Territories as well as from Nunavut and Ontario.
Aurora College Andy Bevan greeted graduates and noted the special challenges due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops on the college community.
Many, if not most, of the college’s graduates and clients are of Indigenous background.
“You have persevered and succeeded through unusual and an especially challenging set of circumstances and today you get to celebrate your success,” he said. “For many of you the challenges of the pandemic have been compounded by the events of the last few weeks that have brought the legacy of residential schools into sharp focus.
“Aurora College will take our lead from Indigenous partners on how to move forward in the NWT to remain committed to reconciliation and ensuring our institution reflects the people it serves.”
Shortly after the pandemic hit the NWT in March 2020, Aurora College suspended its in-person classes for that semester and convocation ceremonies were not held.
Kelvin Tyler Kotchilea, a business administration diploma graduate was one of two valedictorians and noted the special difficulty that the 2020 and 2021 classes faced this year due to the pandemic.
“Many students had to make a tough decision by either continuing with their studies, or to take the year off, because distance, online learning was not ideal for the students who could not return,” Kotchilea said during his address. “Please know you can always return … to your program and finish where you left off. The students who did return, think about how far we have come individually and as a class.
“Your achievements today are intangible, because you will always have that certificate and or diploma with you.”
Several students were taking in the joy of the day with families under grey skies at the city park site.
Kristalynn Jerome of Fort McPherson, who celebrated her personal support worker certificate said the day was extra special as she was celebrating the same year her daughter Clairdean Jerome was graduated Grade 12 at Chief Julius School in her home community last Sunday.
On top of that, she had to raise money to visit Yellowknife for the weekend.
“It’s been really good because we didn’t have our convocation last year so I’m glad to be here,” she said. “We fundraised by selling food plates an selling raffle tickets in our home community and I wouldn’t have been able to do it alone.”
She added that with some financial assistance provided by her band the Gwich’in Tribal Council, she was able to raise about $3,000 over the last month to cover her flight, hotel accommodations and food.
Jerome was coddling her 22-month-old Zoey, who was sharing in the celebration.
“She was just a newborn when I started this program and she came to class with me as a single parent,” she explained. “It was a challenge and it was tough, but the instructors allowed me to bring her to class.”
Jerome says she hopes to find work as a personal support worker in Yellowknife.
Katie Handley of Yellowknife, who graduated with the same certificate, works at Stanton Territorial Hospital. She is aiming to pursue practical nursing next year at Aurora College but admits the past year had been unique.
“We were supposed to graduate last year, but the world shut down as we were finishing so we were the experimental online (group),” she said. “But we pushed through and couldn’t have asked for a better year.”