Ecole St. Mary Class of 2023 brought spirit back to the school

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Ecole St. Mary High School students celebrate their graduation at the Art Hauser Centre on Monday.

The Class of 2023 for Ecole St. Mary High School crossed the stage at the Art Hauser Centre on Monday and the class was a unique one.

This year’s class were in Grade 9 during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 198 graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas in front of a large crowd of friends and family.

Valedictorian Rylee McKay said the pandemic helped to build the class’ character.

“You could say our high school experience definitely deviated from the norm,” McKay said. “We were lucky enough to get a glimpse or a little snippet of what a normal high school experience would have been like.

“We were kind of the last people to understand what that normal was, so even coming back this year with a lot less restrictions, I feel like we can set the tone on a lot of different things because we were the only group to understand what high school really could be.”

McKay said that this was reflected in the way this class took part in Spirit Days and school events.

“We are a very passionate bunch, I’d say, and we when we participated in something, I’d say we usually give it 110 per cent,” she said. “We’re not one to commit halfway. We really go all out and all the clubs and stuff we do.”

McKay hopes the spirit of the Class of 2023 is passed on to the Grade 10 and Grade 11 students who also did not have a normal high school experience because of the pandemic.

“We’ve all experienced some kind of restrictions,” she said. “Being able to see what it’s like, what high school is really like when you’re not so limited, I’m hoping that’ll cause more school spirit to continue to grow, and as the years go on, that school spirit will continue to thrive.”

McKay showed her involvement by being involved in a number of clubs and sports. She was on the volleyball team that won silver at provincials and the basketball team that advanced to provincials and a co-president of the Student Leadership Council.

She was also part of Upstage Productions and the production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, the Model UN Club and outside of school she was a featured performer in the Prince Albert Music Festival and played club volleyball in Saskatoon. When asked what her favourite memory of her time at Ecole St. Mary McKay said that she found it tough to choose.

“I couldn’t pick a single thing, but everything in my Grade 12 year,” she said. “I’m sure Grade 12, as a year, probably means most to most graduates, but also because we have experienced COVID, this is our first year that’s almost restriction-free, it’s just meant so much to, I think, all the graduates.”

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Valedictorian Rylee McKay addressed the Class of 2023 at their graduation at the Art Hauser Centre on Monday.

The musical production was a highlight because it was the first year where there was one since the pandemic began.

“I didn’t even know if we were going to be able to do that,” McKay said. “This is the first musical that’s ever been held during my time at St Mary because all the other ones got shut down.”

She was also in the 2022 production of The Mouse that Roared and enjoyed it but said it wasn’t the same as a musical.

“Getting to have a musical this year was amazing,” she said. “I was so lucky and got to do it with so many of my friends. Some of my friends with a musical background some of my friends without one, we all just kind of decided to join and experience that together and that was so much fun.”

Sports also played a significant role in her high school experience and Prince Albert hosting Hoopla in March was memorable.

“Being able to host, to have all my friends and my family be able to come watch just because of location was amazing. The energy was something that I don’t think could ever be replicated. It was just absolutely incredible.”

After the diplomas were handed out and before the official part of the ceremony, Bishop Stephen Hero and others performed the Liturgy of the Word which had the Spiritual Theme “Sharing our New Beginning.”

Mayor Greg Dionne brought greetings from the City. Board of education vice chair Pat Hordyski brought greetings on behalf of the board of education.

The emcees for the graduation were Sam Malenfant and Evan Criuckshank. Andrew Harris gave the Salutary Address.

The day concluded with an address from principal Dwayne Gareau.

Monday’s graduation also included an awards ceremony. McKay was awarded the Governor General Scholarship and the Governor General’s Medal among several awards.

McKay also won the First Academic Award while Harris also took home the Second Academic Award.

McKay is planning on attending McGill in Montreal to study bio engineering.

“I’m really excited about that,” she said. “It’s scary, but I just love the idea of living in the big city. I was really lucky I got to travel to Montreal last summer and it was just amazing. The culture and just the city itself is so beautiful.”

Former Principal Mark Phaneuf was on hand to present a series of new awards with his name attached. Phaneuf’s presence was felt by the class even after he retired.

“It’s really hard to even explain how to feel because it’s really sad,” McKay said. “Everyone adores Mr. Phaneuf. Mr. Phaneuf was one of the reasons I even decided to come to St Mary’s because I was in the public school division before and then just getting to talk to him or him getting to talk to my parents… He knew all the kids’ names at St Mary’s.”

Knowing all the names told McKay that they were valued students in the school. She added that she was sad because Phanuef played a major role in making the school what it was.

She knew Gareau from playing basketball and said the school was in good hands.

“I wish Mr. Phaneuf all the best in his retirement, and I know Mr. Gareau is going to continue to do great things for the school,” McKay said.

McKay thanked the entire staff at Ecole St. Mary from the teachers to the support staff.

“The teachers are incredible. They’re what have allowed me to really grow as a student and understand.”

She also said the janitorial staff are underappreciated and always kind and caring.

In her speech, she also gave appreciation to the kitchen staff including the cookies being something every student would know.

She mentioned how the staff know students orders before they are even given in the mornings.

“In the mornings, almost every St Mary’s student, I’m sure, has experienced this,” she said. “You’ll walk into the kitchen to get your breakfast and they’ll look at you and they’ll already recognize you and they’ll go, You want a cheese bagel?”

“It’s like we have a 1,000 students and they remember all of our orders. They get to know us on such an amazing level that it’s so impressive and I just appreciate them so much,” McKay said.

On Monday evening the traditional Grand March was also hosted at the Art Hauser Centre.