The Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School alumnus list grew by 164 following a spirited graduation ceremony June 28.
Held at the Keating Centre, the evening began with Jensen Grant singing O’Canada, only a few days prior to the country’s 150th birthday.
Sister Catherine Ann MacGillivray gave the Invocation address which was followed by the awarding of Lt. Governor Medals to Grade 11 students Brooklyn Frizzle and Mary-Beth Corsten.
Yvonne Quik then introduced the ceremony’s guest speaker which was 1999 graduate John Angus MacDonald of the successful rock band the Trews.
MacDonald’s encouraging, often funny, speech including a story about him and fellow bandmate Jack Syperek cutting class one afternoon but, foolishly, taking an “escape route” which had them trudging in a foot of snow across the long playing field, which took “20 minutes” and was in plain sight of school administrators and his mother, a teacher at the school.
A poignant moment in his speech, and for the ceremony, was MacDonald noting his mother, Nikki Callaghan, was retiring with the end of this school year. It brought a huge ovation from the students and audience which would be repeated later in the ceremony when Principal Wanda Fougere also paid tribute to Callaghan’s years at the Regional.
MacDonald’s message to students was about staying true to themselves and following their passions with determination and hard work.
“Hard work, dedication, commitment, persistence, they really pay off … what happened with the Trews’ success goes way beyond luck; we were relentless, we worked really hard and played even harder,” MacDonald said.
“We practiced a minimum of three-hours every day after school, when we could, and we sacrificed our social lives. As it was mentioned, I didn’t attend my senior prom, I played at it.
“And as soon as high school was done, we hit the road and didn’t look back. We never built a safety net or had a plan ‘B’; this is what I wanted to do with my life and I pursued it wholeheartedly with passion, dedication and commitment. So my advice to you is to go out in this world and find your place; be unapologetic about who you are and pursue your passions.”
MacDonald’s speech was followed by the awarding of academic medals for top three rankings. The medals were awarded to; Ben Stephen – Governor General’s Academic Medal (ranked one), Annette Diao – Queen Elizabeth II Medal (ranked two), and Kaitlyn Kelly – Bronze Medal (rank three).
“It’s one of those big milestones in life you look forward to and while it seems to take forever to get there, once you do and it’s over, it’s just really nice … a good feeling,” Stephen said when asked about graduation following the ceremony.
As for his success, he noted it starts with his mother and father.
“Number one, my mom and dad,” he said. ‘They’ve been huge supporters, helping me get through, with homework, assignments, giving me the supplies and resources I needed to do well in school.
“And then I just dedicated myself to my school work, put my all into it and made sure my schedule was open so I could spend time doing that.”
Stephen, who will be attending Dalhousie Agricultural College next fall to study pre-veterinarian medicine, with an eye on advancing to the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at UPEI, talked about what he’ll miss most about his high school.
“The community and the teachers,” he said. “It’s a really, really close knit community here and it’s something I’m going to feel a part of the rest of my life.”
Valedictorian Travis Grace hit on the theme of community in his speech.
“Like the beginning of high school, that feeling of uncertainty will enter our minds as we venture off into the next chapter of our lives; yet, again like high school, we will not be going through these life experiences alone,” Grace said. “We will always have someone to support us, just like we have through our last 13 years of education.
“And, as we go forward, I have no doubt in my mind we’ll see and hear about many Dr. J alumni doing great things in their communities and around the world, in every way imaginable.
“The Class of 2017’s ability to have a positive impact on the world will only grow with experience.”
He emphasized his fellow grads’ potential when talking to the Casket following the ceremony.
“I just really wanted to emphasize the fact that the 13 years were, at times, hard but worth it,” he said, when asked about his speech’s focus.
“We’re definitely a very diverse group of kids and, I think, we’re very open minded and excited to see what we can do in the next few years. That’s what I really wanted to emphasize; think about the future, what we can do to not only better the community but for our world.”
As for what he’ll miss most about the Regional, Grace, who will be entering St. F.X.’s human kinetics program in the fall, talked about school spirit.
“I know St. F.X. has a spirit but it’s the local spirit we have here,” he said.
“And just the people; the friendly faces you’re always going to see here, for sure,” he added, noting, as an example, the ladies who work in the cafeteria who always said ‘hi’ and asked how students were doing.
Principal Fougere gave the final speech of the night and provided the students with inspiring words to carry forward with them.
“You are now entering the next stage of our life, an exciting stage, one in which your choices are limitless; so as you move forward on this journey of life, take deliberate steps, set goals and have a plan,” she said.
“Everyone ends up somewhere and some people end up where they planned to be. Be a person with a plan but also stay open to serendipity and random experiences in life as the wonder in living can often be found in the unexpected.
“Embrace fear and uncertainty; don’t be afraid to fail because, often, our best learning comes from our mistakes.”
She also noted the significance of this class starting at the Regional the same year she did. She was asked about that following the ceremony.
“I was the vice-principal the first year they arrived so we both didn’t know what we were doing and where we were going,” she said with a chuckle.
“They’ve been special … it’s so nice to see them change and move from those insecure young kids into the young men and women they’re today. They’ve been excellent leaders throughout their time in school and I know they’re going to go on and do wonderful things in life.”
It was noted the number of students walking across the stage while the word “honours” and others, recognizing academic achievement, were used.
“They’re a very smart group of students; hard workers, mature and responsible over their time in school and they’ve just excelled because of that,” Fougere said. “They’re a lovely group of kids who have given a lot to this school … they’re a pretty amazing class.”