Fifteen Grade 12 graduates earned a unique distinction on Aug. 25. in Naujaat, when their Class of 2017 became the first to graduate at the new Tuugaalik High School.
Vice-principal Julia MacPherson said a number of the graduates didn't realize their class was actually making history as the first graduating class, because Tuugaalik High School opened in August of 2016. But she said the Class of 2016 ceremony was held at the old Tusarvik High School, which is where those graduates had spent their entire educational journey.
MacPherson said the significance of the occasion began sinking in during grad meetings leading up to the ceremony.
“There was a lot of sadness, and also a lot of excitement, when we had to switch schools,” she said.
“We had always been a kindergarten to Grade 12 school, but the students really started to form their own sense of identity up here.
“Then, to have their own graduation ceremony and prom, it all felt a bit more personal, like it was being held just for them, and, overall, it was really a fantastic night.”
The Class of 2017's 15 graduates is two more than in 2016 and equals the largest graduating class of nine years ago in Naujaat.
MacPherson said there's a hope this record could be bettered by three or four in the Class of 2018.
She said this year was particularly meaningful as a few of the graduating students had actually dropped out of school previously.
“We really encouraged them to return and we were so proud of them when they finally finished high school,” she said.
Historically, members of the local District Education Board would walk into the graduation ceremony with each graduate, but, a few years ago, a graduate was adamant about walking in with a family member who had really pushed for them to finish high school.
The student's request was approved and since then has become a unique part of graduating in Naujaat.
“We thought it was a great idea, continued the tradition during the past few years, and the grads really, really enjoy it,” said MacPherson.
“The parents, grandparents, guardians, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins really enjoy that moment, too, and it has helped the ceremony become a huge community celebration.
“If we could fit the entire community into the gym for the ceremony, I think everyone would be here.
For MacPherson, the graduation and prom felt different this year – different in a good way.
“It felt more mature, established, classy and elegant, which, overall, combined to produce a very positive evening,” she said.
Following the graduation ceremony a sit-down dinner was held for the graduates and their invited guests which featured muktuq salad, caribou stew, frozen caribou with onions and butter, bannock and punch.
The graduation prom followed, attended by students in grades nine through 12. A bonfire was held outside which became a huge hit. Students even got to toss a load of used workbooks into the fire as a symbolic gesture of completing high school.