Laurier honours Aboriginal grads

Saturday, April 30th is a day Kandice Baptiste won’t soon forget.

On Saturday, Baptiste and eight other Aboriginal graduates were honoured in Laurier’s Senate and Board Chambers with a ceremony that involved many traditional elements of Aboriginal culture. This was the first event of its kind in Kitchener-Waterloo and paid tribute to local First Nations students graduating from area universities, colleges and high schools.

“It’s a really proud day for me today, I’m the first of my family to graduate from university and it just means a lot that my parents and my family can come here be specific to a celebration that’s specific to Aboriginal people,” said Baptiste, a former varsity athlete on Laurier women’s basketball team will graduate in June with a history degree and also founded Laurier’s Aboriginal Student Association this past September.

Of the other eight graduates, three came from Laurier’s master’s of social work program, one from York University, one from Conestoga College, three from Kitchener Collegiate Institute and one from Waterloo-Oxford high school.

The event began with a traditional opening ceremony that involved a grand entry drum song and a procession behind an eagle staff, meant to recognize veterans who have served overseas in the past and are still serving currently. The crowd of elders, students, family and friends were then addressed by Jean Becker, senior advisor of Aboriginal initiatives at Laurier and Myeengun Henry, manager of Aboriginal student services at Conestoga College.

The traditional songs played a large role in the ceremony as several were performed, recognizing the students and their families, as well as wishing the graduates well on their future path.

The formal ceremony concluded with each graduate receiving an eagle feather, the highest honour in the Aboriginal community.

Considering the well-documented struggles with graduation rates within the Aboriginal community, Henry and Becker recognized the importance of events such as Saturday’s.

“We’ve seen too many of our young people fall through the cracks,” said Henry in his closing address. “But we’re not going to see that anymore.”

Becker added that honouring Aboriginal graduates will only have a positive effect on future generations.

“It’s crucial,” she said. “You look at the young children that are here, they’ll grow up and remember this and it’ll give them aspiration and role models to follow. It’s just so important that we have these kinds of celebrations.”