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Little school throws a big grad

The Class of 2019 tied the record for the most grads in one year at Victor Sammurtok School (VSS) when six students received their Grade 12 diploma in Chesterfield Inlet on Aug. 16.

The school’s gym was packed with about 100 friends and family members to celebrate the occasion and listen to what the grads had to say.

Class of 2019 Victor Sammurtok School graduate Paul Jr. Autut has his special moment preserved with Marjorie and Paul Sr. Autut in Chesterfield Inlet on Aug. 16. Photo courtesy of Glen Brocklebank.

They don’t select valedictorians at VSS, preferring, instead, to let each student address the gathering and then pay homage to the special people who were instrumental to their educational journey.

Teacher Glen Brocklebank, now in his 19th year at VSS, said five of the six grads entered kindergarten at the same time and remained together in the same class, year after year, until they received their diploma.

He said there has been at least one grad at VSS for each of the past 18 years, and that means a great deal to the overall spirit at the school.

“It shows other students that it can be done,” said Brocklebank.

“We work on the philosophy of success breeds success. When we see success, we start to believe we can achieve it too and it’s easier to work towards that.

“This year, two of the grads had their best year ever at school. They put-in their highest level of effort and achieved higher marks than they ever had before.

“It was no longer if they graduate at their school, but when they graduate. That’s in the culture of the school now and is something I hope we always keep.”

Class of 2019 graduate Marjorie Aggark has her photo taken with Marjorie Autut and her grandfather, Louis Autut, at Victor Sammurtok School in Chesterfield Inlet on Aug. 16. Photo courtesy Glen Brocklebank.

VSS is known for going all out for the graduation ceremony each year, whether there’s one graduate or six.

Brocklebank said maximum effort is made to give each graduate the memorable night they have earned.

He said it’s an all-out effort because it’s something the staff members want to make sure is celebrated in a great way.

“One of our best teachers – if not the best – Vicki Tanuyak, is VSS’s very first graduate and many of the kids continue to look up to her for that legacy,” he said.

“We are still struggling, however, to see more of our graduates go on to post-secondary education.

“One of this year’s graduates has applied to the fisheries consortium for January, one has applied to the RCMP, two have been talking about applying to the social work program in Cambridge Bay, one is thinking about the environmental technician program in Iqaluit and one is applying to the military.”

Brocklebank said each student prepared their own speech for the grad ceremony.

He said it is almost always, without fail, emotional when each graduate acknowledges the special people who helped them along the way.

“We have a part in the ceremony where each grad walks off-stage, goes to their family, relatives or friends, and gives the people who have made a difference in their education a boutonniere (a small floral decoration),” he said.

“If you haven’t cried until then, that’s when you reach the tipping point.

“It can be a real tearjerker to see the grads honour the people who helped get them there. It truly is emotional.

“The graduation ceremony at our school has become a big thing. And I hope it will always be a big thing because celebrating student success is tremendously important.”