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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.

Candace Apples of Gameti, receives her social work diploma. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

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.

Graduates and guests of honour gathered at Somba K’e Civic Plaza June 10 for the celebration of the Aurora College classes of 2020 and 2021. Due to COVID, some public health restrictions like physical distancing and mask wearing were in place. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

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.

Students stand for a recessional procession at the end of the ceremony. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

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.

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Andy Bevan, president of Aurora College applauds the graduates of 2020 and 2021 on Thursday morning. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

“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.

Samantha Bishop of Whati and Vanessa Sanguez of Jean Marie River both celebrate their early learning and child care diplomas. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

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.

Kevin Tyler Kotchilea of Behchoko gave a valedictorian address as he completed his business administration diploma program. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

“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.”

Seanna Menacho of Tulita, with her five-year-old son Levi Yukon, received her office administration diploma. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

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.

Personal support worker certificate recipients for 2020 included Delores Betsina of Lutselk’e, Jolene Kenny of Deline, Priscilla Smith of Inuvik, Victoria Wedzin of Behchoko, Katie Handley of Yellowknife, and Kristalynn Jerome of Fort McPherson. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

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.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. A through and through "County boy" from Prince Edward County, Ont., Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin...

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