For the first time since 2019, the Ecole St. Mary High School graduating class was able to have an in-person ceremony at the Art Hauser Centre.
Graduates from the Class of 2022 walked across the stage to receive their diplomas in front of a large crowd of friends and family. Co-Valedictorian Evan DeBack said it was an emotional day.
“I’m just excited,” DeBack said. “It has just been a long four years—lots of hard work—and (I’m) excited for next year and going into the college of engineering at the U of S. I am excited for the summer and then get right back into school in the fall.”
Being in school during the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge, but DeBack said they still had a great time.
“It has made me more motivated,” he explained. “As soon as the pandemic was over I wanted to go all in for school, sports, clubs, extracurricular, everything.
“It just made me realize how much we don’t appreciate the little things in our life and I just got excited to get back into school and the community.”
However, Deback admits he still had his doubts. Even as Monday approached, he wasn’t sure the Class of ’22 would have an actual in-person graduation. He’s glad that it worked out.
DeBack said his favourite memory of attending St. Mary was a Grade 9 trip to Wapiti Valley.
With his focus on engineering, he has already thought about the future.
“I’ll probably go into civil engineering,” he explained. “I’m really interested in transportation and all of that stuff.”
DeBack was co-Valedictorian with Riley Wismer, who was unavailable for an interview following the ceremony.
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.
Mayor Greg Dionne brought greetings from the City. Board of education vice chair Maurice Chalifour brought greetings on behalf of the board of education.
The emcees for the graduation were Rylee McKay and Alex De Padua.
Calla Henry gave the Salutary Address.
The day concluded with an address from principal Mark Phaneuf. Phaneuf was just pleased to be able to have an in-person graduation with all the regular features like Liturgy of the Word and Awards Ceremony.
“We promised the kids we would do what we could for them if we could,” he said. “As a staff and as a school community, we are so pleased to celebrate these students in a way that felt very fitting.”
Phaneuf said the school strove for normalcy during the school year, even though staff understood COVID wasn’t completely gone.
“This graduation today was a testament to students that didn’t complain once,” he said. “They were true leaders. They were wonderful throughout this whole process.
“The leadership of this group cannot be understated.”
The Class of ’22 was in Grade 10 when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Phaneuf said they promised the students they would have as normal a ceremony as possible.
“We were so pleased to be able to deliver on that today, (and) to have the Bishop here, to have our families together, our school board here, our staff,” he said. “What a celebration of kids that are deserved of being celebrated. This is what we are striving for in life.”
Director of education Lorel Trumier said that the board and staff of the Prince Albert Catholic School Division were in awe of all the students had accomplished.
“Our community is in good hands with the students that are graduating because they navigated a very difficult time in the world and they were very successful,” she said. “This celebration is just really a joy. (It’s) a celebration of their perseverance through so much.
“We, as a board of education and school division staff we watched those children in awe. They were able to navigate so much, online learning, remote learning, return to class, isolation periods, pandemic protocols and they were so supportive throughout. We wish nothing but the best for our graduates and we know they are going to manage so many elements because they already managed so much adversity here through the pandemic.”
Monday’s graduation also included an awards ceremony. Wismer was awarded the Govern General Scholarship and the Governor General’s Medal.
DeBack and Wismer shared the First Academic Award while DeBack also took home the William Hawyrluk Math Award, PAATA Doreen Lloyd Memorial Scholarship.
Wismer was also awarded the Ecole St. Mary High School Scholarship.
On Monday evening the traditional Grand March was also hosted at the Art Hauser Centre.
“I really want to thank this group of students for their leadership, for the love and the caring that they showed their peers, the younger students in the school, (and) the staff,” Phaneuf said. “The leadership they showed will serve us well with the next student group of leaders next year.”