High school wasn’t always easy for Sebastian Oqallak. In fact, he admits that he considered dropping out.
Yet on June 2, after years of encouragement from his family and friends, he donned a graduation gown, and received his diploma from Arctic Bay’s Inuujaq School.
It was a moment he describes as “joyful.”
“I almost gave up high school, but people kept pushing me to keep going, so I tried so hard to finish it,” he said. “Now I’ve finished it.”
Oqallak’s family was in the building for his graduation ceremony, including his cousin, and his mother, who he says became emotional when he took the stage.
“They were really proud of me,” he said. “My mother cried.”
Oqallak is proud of himself, too, and recognizes that he will have far more options as a high school graduate than he would have otherwise.
“It’s a really good feeling,” he said. “There’s more opportunities for me now, because I’m not just some student anymore.”
He’s undecided on his next move after high school, but has been contemplating his options during trips out on the land to camp and hunt.
“I’m still thinking about that,” he said. “I was thinking about going to college.
“One of my old teachers really wanted to help me with that, but he left town, so I don’t really know about that anymore.”
In addition to his high school diploma, Oqallak also left his graduation ceremony with a new laptop courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mines, the Oakville, Ont., firm behind the Mary River mine operating in Nunavut’s Qikiqtani region.
Baffinland works closely with five Qikiqtani communities in particular: Iglulik, Sanirajak, Pond Inlet, Clyde River and Oqallak’s home of Arctic Bay.
Since 2018, the company has encouraged students to finish high school by offering free computers to all graduates from those communities.
Oqallak, an aspiring musician, has plans to use his new laptop to take the rap and dance songs he writes to the next level.
“I just want to thank Baffinland for the computer,” he said. “It’s very useful. I would use my phone if I didn’t have computer, but I can put more photos on my computer now. I just want to thank them for giving us something very useful.
Baffinland distributed 60 laptops this year. Since 2018, the company has handed out 181 laptops and 47 iPad tablets to area graduates.
“We agreed to offer the free laptops to graduates as a means to encourage the completion of high school but also to reward them for their hard work and dedication to their studies,” said Peter Akman, Baffinland’s head of stakeholder relations and communications. “These laptops, while a reward for their graduation, are also an important and valuable tool as they continue their post-secondary education or training.”
Baffinland also supports education in the communities it works with by funding school lunch programs and contributing to career fairs, career counselling, co-op education opportunities and stay-in-school programs. Each year, the company also offers five $5,000 scholarships to high school graduates moving on to post-secondary education – although it exceeded that number in 2023.
“This year we awarded a total of six scholarships due to the exemplary number of applicants,” Akman said.