Tears, laughter, heartfelt appreciations.
It’s possible the building was the only thing left unmoved by an emotional ceremony Thursday afternoon honouring the graduates of Salmon Arm’s Storefront School.
Amid lots of cheering and clapping from the crowd at the Seniors’ Fifth Avenue Activity Centre, 17 graduates of the school received their Grade 12 diplomas. The school offers alternate programs for students in grades 10 to 12.
Teacher George Jameson welcomed graduates and guests in what was to become a theme of the ceremony.
His voice catching slightly, he referred to the grads as the “finest” young people.
Students Selina Madore and Hayley Poroznuk followed up with their welcome, also expressing appreciation, theirs for the school, teachers and fellow students.
Mayor Nancy Cooper described the Storefront grad as one of her favourite events “because I know so much has gone on here. This is quite an accomplishment and you should be proud.
“In the end it was your commitment, your hard work that kept you going …”
She referred to what an elder had said to Chief Oliver Arnouse of the Little Shuswap Band when she attended a ceremony for National Aboriginal Day Wednesday at Quaaout Lodge. A large birch tree had been cut down in January and carved into a canoe to teach the art of canoe building. The canoe was launched and taken for a paddle as Cooper and others looked on.
The elder told the chief to go back and plant a seedling where the other tree was taken down.
Cooper noted that the grads have had a lot of help and encouragement.
She suggested there may be a time when they can encourage someone else to do their Grade 12.
“You can be the ones.”
She added that the grads can be very proud of themselves.
“The City of Salmon Arm is definitely very proud of you.”
Dianne Ballance, the school district’s director of instruction, explained that she was able to meet with some of the students.
“You touched my heart and I learned from you.”
She said the students are all very unique and have all been on an incredible journey.
“You all have a sense of honour, a sense of responsibility and an incredible sense of respect.”
One of the things all the grads have in common, she said, is “you all feel Storefront is your safe place.”
She said everyone said it’s a family, a supportive environment.
Another thing they had in common, she said, is they said they would have given up, they wouldn’t have graduated, they would have dropped out of school had it not been for Storefront.
Ballance pointed out that the students have had to learn a lot of lessons “lots of us haven’t.”
She said individual students told her that Storefront builds you up, it gave them a sense of belonging, it has turned their life around.
“What’s most powerful,” Ballance said, “is you guys believe in yourselves. You can make anything possible.”
Cheyanne Rathbone and Kaitlynn Inglis both gave speeches as co-valedictorians.
Both shared heartfelt appreciations and wit, to tears and laughter.
At one point Inglis quoted author JK Rowling, who said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
“Sometimes we fell flat on our asses,” Inglis said of her fellow grads, “but we picked ourselves up.”
Storefront staff Gerry Kiy, Donna Hahn, AJ Decker and George Jameson handed out diplomas, bursaries and mugs with flowers to everyone, as well as scholarships to some.
With each student, they had comments to make, some of them funny but all of them kind.
They spoke of some students who were holding down one or two jobs, even one person with three, while they were finishing their courses. They spoke of the students’ strength, determination, talent, intelligence, ability to be supportive friends, and more.
Jameson presented a diploma to co-valedictorian Cheyanne Rathbone, noting she’s a gifted artist, volunteers at the library and was the strongest academic student.
“To give you a glimpse into Cheyanne’s mind,” he said with a smile, “she’s the only person I know, as she’s reading Hamlet, she sees some peculiar word play, bursts out laughing and has to share it with everybody.”
The students graduating included: Jessica Beauvais, Theresa Fernandez, Michael Gamblin, Cameron Hansen, Zackery Hunter, Kaitlynn Inglis, Selina Madore, Kassidy Phipps, Hayley Poroznuk, Cheyanne Rathbone, Brooke Richardson, Spence Richardson, Cassidy Samuel, Joshua Shillington, Miykhaela Tomma, Kyle Trelenberg and Jenessa Zappone.