Aurora College graduates overcome pandemic and other obstacles to cross the stage

Aurora College drafting ceremonies typically recognize the importance of perseverance and overcoming adversity.

Classes 2020 and 2021 put a slightly stronger emphasis on this point June 10th.

Candace Apples from Gameti receives her degree in social work. Simon Whitehouse / NNSL Photo

During the day, 133 graduates were honored at Somba K’e Civic Plaza in Yellowknife, with enlistment ceremonies also being held at Thebacha Campus in Fort Smith and Aurora Campus in Inuvik on Friday June 11th.

Graduates and guests of honor gathered at Somba K’e Civic Plaza on June 10 to celebrate Aurora College classes of 2020 and 2021. Due to COVID, there have been some public health restrictions such as physical distancing and the wearing of masks. Simon Whitehouse / NNSL Photo

Yellowknifer attended the first of three ceremonies that recognized 39 out of 90 graduates from six programs from across the Northwest Territories as well as Nunavut and Ontario.

The students stand for a recession procession at the end of the ceremony. Simon Whitehouse / NNSL Photo

Aurora College Andy Bevan welcomed the graduates, highlighting the unique challenges posed by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops on the college community.

Many, if not most, of the college’s graduates and clients are Indigenous.


Andy Bevan, President of Aurora College, applauds graduates of 2020 and 2021 Thursday morning. Simon Whitehouse / NNSL Photo

“You have persevered and succeeded through unusual and particularly challenging circumstances, and today you can celebrate your success,” he said. “For many of you, the challenges of the pandemic have been exacerbated by the events of the past few weeks that have brought the boarding school legacy into focus.

“Aurora College will be guided by indigenous partners to move forward in the NWT, to remain committed to reconciliation and to ensure that our institution reflects the people it serves.”

Shortly after the March 2020 pandemic hit the NWT, Aurora College suspended its face-to-face classes for that semester and drafting ceremonies did not take place.

Samantha Bishop of Whati and Vanessa Sanguez of Jean Marie River both celebrate their diplomas in early childhood education and childcare. Simon Whitehouse / NNSL Photo

Kelvin Tyler Kotchilea, a business administration graduate, was one of two farewell speakers and pointed out the particular difficulties that classes in 2020 and 2021 were facing this year due to the pandemic.

Behchoko’s Kevin Tyler Kotchilea delivered a farewell speech as he graduated with a degree in business administration. Simon Whitehouse / NNSL Photo

“Many students had to make a difficult decision to either continue their studies or take the year off because online distance learning was not ideal for the students who could not return,” said Kotchilea in his address. “Please know that you can always… return to your program and finish where you left off. The students who have returned think about how far we have come individually and as a class.

“Your achievements today are not tangible because you always have the certificate and / or diploma with you.”

Seana Menacho from Tulita with her five year old son Levi Yukon received her diploma as an office clerk. Simon Whitehouse / NNSL Photo

Several students enjoyed the day with their families under gray skies in the city park area.

Kristalynn Jerome of Fort McPherson, celebrating her personal certificate of caregiver, said the day was very special as she celebrated the same year her daughter Clairdean Jerome graduated from Chief Julius School in her home ward last Sunday. Had completed class.

She also had to raise funds to visit Yellowknife over the weekend.

“It was really good because we didn’t have a draft last year, so I’m glad to be here,” she said. “We collected donations by selling food plates and raffle tickets in our home community, and I couldn’t have done it on my own.”

She added that with some funding from her band, the Gwich’in Tribal Council, she was able to raise about $ 3,000 last month to cover her flight, hotel accommodation and food.

Jerome pampered her 22 month old Zoey who attended the celebration.

“She was a newborn baby when I started this program, and she came to class with me as a single mother,” she explained. “It was a challenge and it was tough, but the teachers allowed me to take them to class.”

Jerome says she hopes to find a job as a personal assistant in Yellowknife.

2020 Personal Support Worker Certificate recipients included Delores Betsina from Lutselk’e, Jolene Kenny from Deline, Priscilla Smith from Inuvik, Victoria Wedzin from Behchoko, Katie Handley from Yellowknife, and Kristalynn Jerome from Fort McPherson. Simon Whitehouse / NNSL Photo

Katie Handley of Yellowknife, who graduated with the same certificate, works at the Stanton Territorial Hospital. She plans to do practical nursing at Aurora College next year, but admits that the past year has been a unique one.

“We were supposed to graduate last year, but the world closed when we finished, so we were the online experimental group,” she said. “But we prevailed and couldn’t have wished for a better year.”

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