Like many high school students across the country, Iqaluit’s Tasiana Shirley spent significant portions of the last few years learning from home, having been kept from the classroom by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thankfully, Shirley and her peers at the city’s Inuksuk High School were able to graduate in person, with all of of the pomp and circumstance they envisioned for themselves when they first walked into the building over four years ago.

“The ceremony itself was really lovely,” Shirley said shortly after she graduated. “It was actually more extravagant than I thought it would be. The teachers really did an amazing job with the decorations and making it a day about all of us, and making it a day of celebration.”

Shirley is one of 58 students to graduate from Inuksuk this year.

The graduation ceremony occurred on June 20, and featured speeches, photo opportunities and a rose ceremony, during which younger students gifted flowers to those leaving the school behind.

The ceremony also included a speech from Inuk hockey player Jordin Tootoo, who played for the NHL’s Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks before hanging up his skates in 2018.

“The speech with Jordin was really incredible for us,” Shirley said. “It was really wonderful that he was able to do that for us.

“The speeches and the words of guidance and support were a really wonderful to have on that day.”

While Shirley admits she is ready to “turn over a new leaf and move on from high school,” there are things she will miss about Inuksuk, including her art class, and the friends she made there.

“It definitely feels like a mix between relief and excitement, and also hanging on to the sentimental values of my high school friendships and experiences,” she said. “The friendships that I held, especially in my art class with Ms. Margaret, were really wonderful. It was really a beautiful place to relax from all of my academic classes and pressures and just put on my headphones and make some paintings or drawings.”

Shirley, whose high school career also included an acting role in the film Slash/Back and a trip to Winnipeg for the 2023 Skills Canada National Competition, has big plans for the future.

Her first priority is a summer cruise through the Arctic Ocean with her family. Once that’s over, she will head south, having been accepted into the University of Toronto’s four-year social sciences program.

If that goes according to plan, she aspires to enter law school.

“I’ve lived in Iqaluit my whole life,” she said. “It’s definitely going to be a transition moving from the smallest city in the nation to the biggest. It’s going to be a change.”

Those are lofty goals for a teenager, but after four years at Inuksuk High School, Shirley feels well equipped to achieve them.

“I feel that my years in high school definitely have been the most influential in my life, obviously,” she said. “Especially after the last year, I really feel like I’m one step closer to finding myself and my passion.

“Even with the unpleasant Covid interruptions, these past few years have really shown me the importance of communication – even if it’s through Zoom – and getting in touch with my artistic side, and learning my passion for fitness, and being connected with my family.

“I’ll truly be ready for life outside of my home.”

Shirley’s confidence is not unique, according to Tess Thurber, Inuksuk High School’s Grade 11 and 12 guidance counsellor.

Thurber believes all of the school’s grad are ready for the real world, despite being “in the building the least” out of any group of students.

“They definitely worked to make up for it in Grade 12 – not just in terms of their academics but to make their experience memorable. They were very active in different groups and sports.

“Our graduates this year, they are definitely poised to take action. They don’t hesitate to ask for help or reach out if they need it,” said Thurber. “They certainly also have qualities of lifting each other up and supporting each other, and I think that those qualities, as well as all of the things they’ve learned academically and socially in the walls of this school, have prepared them for the next chapters of their lives.”

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