The Prince Albert Campus of the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) hosted the largest graduating class in the school’s history with a Fall Graduation Ceremony at Plaza 88 on Saturday.
President Jacqueline Ottmann was proud to see so many graduates cross the stage.
“Having the biggest class of graduates that we’ve ever had is truly inspirational because these graduates are going to make an impact in our communities, not only within Indigenous communities, but everywhere within the province and beyond,” Ottmann said.
The university rotates graduations between the three campuses in Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon. Although a few graduates were missing, the majority were in attendance, with many travelling from Regina and Saskatoon for the festivities.
Prince Albert’s Nicole Gutka, who is Métis, attended the Prince Albert Campus and was chosen as Valedictorian for the Fall Class of 2023. Gutka was grateful for the selection.
“It is absolutely an honour to be chosen out of the three different campuses to represent the school,” she said. “It also shows the hard work that I’ve put into my studies, aiming for high grades and perfect attendance. It’s just very special to be just honoured for that.”
Gutka said it was even more special considering the size of the class.
“That’s amazing. That’s an honour.”
Gutka’s journey at the FNUC began following a challenging time in her life. She was beginning a new lifestyle and embracing sobriety. She also enrolled at the university in 2019.
“I was five months into my sobriety, so it was a change from the lifestyle that I was used to,” she remembered. “Then each year as it went by, I began to learn my culture and find who I am, to learn who I am and my purpose. I’m using my recovery as a way to strengthen the ones in the community who are still suffering.”
Gutka received her degree in Indigenous Social Work, which was also the largest class in the evening. That choice also reflected her past life and trying to improve the lives of others.
“(That’s) the lifestyle that I used to follow,” she said. “I had children who also were impacted by my active use. Just because of that I want to illuminate strength and hope that there is recovery. Having that lived experience, I’ll be able to assist families and youth who are also going through a similar reality.”
To have the ceremony close to home was also special to Gutka.
“It means a lot on a sillier level. I don’t have to pay for a hotel and all that sort of stuff, gas and all that. I can just get ready at home and just travel five minutes away and get here, so it’s nice. It doesn’t take long to get places,” she said.
“For the city to be hosting such a beautiful event. I think it’s also just very special for the citizens in the city to read about and to hear about it.”
The University is looking to build a bigger footprint in the city with the construction of a new campus. Ottmann said that has always been a desire for the university.
“There’s always been a vision for a designated space for First Nations University of Canada here in Prince Albert (with) a new building that is designed for a post-secondary education,” she said. “We are anticipating, hoping, and working hard to ensure that that we have a new facility fairly soon here in
City Council has agreed to sell the University five acres of land near the Victoria Hospital and planning is beginning to take shape.
“It’s amazing, so we’re still waiting to hear from Infrastructure Canada,” Ottmann said.
The Mistress of Ceremonies was faculty member Trina Joseph. Ottman gave an opening address and greetings from the FNUC before supper. Richard Bourdeleault brought greetings from the Board of Governors. After supper, there was a Grand Entry of graduates and dignitaries.
The diplomas were handed out to graduates by Vice President Academic Dr. Shalima Jobin. Robyn Ermine, a 2008 graduate and current Crown Prosecutor in Prince Albert, gave the Alumni Address before Gupta gave her Valedictorian Address.
The FNUC also presented special acknowledgement to graduate and current Interim Director of Student Success Services Taylor Chetty.
The Rolling Thunder Drum Group played the Honour Song to close the evening.
“We are just really excited to have friends and family here to celebrate the graduates. We hope to collaborate so much more with not only the mayor and the council, but also the businesses and the people within Prince Albert,” Ottmann said.
“Congratulations Fall Class of 2023,” Gutka said.