Members of École HJ Cody School’s class of 2014 were joined by family, friends and dignitaries as they celebrated their high school graduation last Thursday.
The day-long celebration kicked off with a commencement ceremony at the multiplex in the afternoon, and culminated with a banquet in Red Deer in the evening.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle was among those who spoke during the day’s gatherings. She encouraged students to be proud of their educational accomplishments, and to embrace the future that now lies ahead of them.
“Find your passion, whatever it may be,” she said. “If you have to volunteer to find that passion, take the opportunity. Remember, there’s nothing better than giving back to those who have given to you.”
Sylvan Lake mayor Sean McIntyre, himself an HJ Cody graduate, reminded students of the hard work that led to their educational success.
“As students, you’ve been tested, and tested, and tested some more,” he said. “You’ve come through good times and challenging times, and after many years of effort and commitment, you’ve achieved an uncontested victory in your graduation.
“You did it, and you made your community proud.”
Lissa Steele, speaking on behalf of Chinook’s Edge School Division, offered graduates some thoughtful remarks, noting, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary”.
The graduates’ minds, she added, are “like parachutes: They work better when they’re open”.
School board trustee Jackie Swainson reminded students of the opportunities that lie ahead of them, now that they’ve completed high school.
“The world is your oyster,” she said. “This means you can do or achieve anything you want in life, because you have the ability, the opportunity and the freedom to do so.”
Guest speaker Graham Parsons accompanied his speech with photos and videos of his own life, describing to graduates his career as a hockey player, and his time spent in the now-closed arena.
He encouraged graduates to remain defiant in achieving their goals, despite the inevitable setbacks they’ll suffer along the way.
“For many of you in this room, paths will be found with ease,” he said. “But there are some out there who have not figured out their direction — unconfident, unsettled, scared and frustrated. To that, I say don’t give up.”
He described his own recent change in fortunes, which began with the event that left his “heart ripped out” when the arena collapsed earlier this year. That ultimately led to the “latest, greatest moment of (his) life” when Sylvan Lake was eventually named Kraft Hockeyville 2014.
Parsons concluded by reminding graduates of the many volunteer opportunities that exist within town, encouraging them to “roll up the sleeves” and get involved.
TJ Sloboda and Paul Kim read the valedictory address, and offered thanks to the many people who have helped them get to where they are today.
“We face a great journey ahead — one that we could not have made it to without the help and guidance of those who have come before us,” said Sloboda.
They also shared some advice with their fellow graduating classmates.
“Always strive to be the best you can, and don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do,” said Kim.
Principal Dave Elwood was the last to speak during the afternoon ceremony. He encouraged students to continue learning, despite being finished high school.
He also told them to embrace the future without fear.
“You have the skills now to take on anything you face, whether it’s a big problem or a small problem,” he said. “It’s OK to fail, it’s OK to try, and it’s OK to ask for help.”
Two awards were presented in the afternoon: Sean McIntyre presented the Mayor’s Citizenship Award to Jamai Bell, while Kerry Towle presented the MLA’s Citizenship Award to Rebecca Lieng.
The HJ Cody School Choir also performed several times throughout the day.