“I’m okay with waiting for a graduation ceremony. I wouldn’t wanna put anyone in danger,” says Grade 12 student Autumn Bent.
Bent is graduating from Father Patrick Mercredi Catholic High School in Fort McMurray, Alta.
The seventeen year old who is part of the Fort Mckay First Nation band was born in Fort McMurray, but spent the first half of her life growing up on the Lower Similkameen reserve in Keremeos, B.C.
“I am a strong Cree and Salish woman,” she says.
Given the unique circumstances facing the graduating classes of 2020, IndigiNews Okanagan is reporting a series on Indigenous students graduating this year. We want to get to know these students and hear their thoughts on what it’s like to graduate amid a global pandemic.
Bent, whose Salish name is Pannulxs, enjoys spending her time with friends and family out in nature. She describes herself as a beautiful, smart, strong independent woman.
Schools in Alberta are not reopening this year, so Bent won’t return to high school.
“I’m okay with waiting for a graduation ceremony. I wouldn’t wanna put anyone in danger,” she says.
She is planning on going to the Southern Alberta Institute for Technology (SAIT) in the fall. Right now she’s trying to stay positive.
“Graduating is a big milestone in life but we all know that the safety of everyone is also important. I’m okay with waiting,” she says.
“This is only gonna make us strong when we all have to come as one again.”
Autumn and I communicated back and forth via email and Facebook. We had a conversation about how she has been grappling with learning from home, how she feels about graduating and what her plans are for the fall. I’ve edited our conversation for length and clarity.
Athena: How are you doing?
Autumn: I’m trying to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.
A: How does schooling look to you currently?
Autumn: Schooling right now is online courses through google classroom.
A: What did graduation look like before COVID-19? And now what does it look like?
Autumn: Graduation was supposed to be a big event. We were supposed to walk the stage. I was supposed to go to prom and experience my last days of being in high school before moving onto the next chapter. Now we are expected to do online schooling and continue with our studies. It’s hard because we don’t get the motivation like we did when we were sitting in the classroom environments.
As for the grad we are doing a virtual graduation online because it is too much of a health hazard to have a ceremony. It’s going to be a whole new experience than any other grad classes. I’m looking at the positives of this though and keeping my head up. The class of 2020 is the grad class that is going to make history.
A: How are you feeling about 2020 graduation changing?
Autumn: Nervous, because I don’t know how it’s going to go and it’s something I imagined that was going to go completely differently.
A: How do you feel supported right now?
Autumn: My family is my biggest support right now and my friends too. We all are supporting each other through this hard time. The school and teachers are trying their best to support every student by checking in with us daily.
A: What are your plans for the fall ?
Autumn: I got accepted into SAIT for academic upgrading then for the winter semester. I am hoping to apply for a pre-employment program.
A: What is keeping you positive?
Autumn: Focusing on the brighter things and how I’m still grateful to be here with my family. How everyone I love and care about is still healthy, even with a pandemic going on we are all still caring for one another.
A: Now lastly, what’s your message for other people graduating in the class of 2020?
Autumn: I am proud of the 2020 grad class even if we imagined this day a little different we all stand as one and we shall all reunite to celebrate our graduation the right way. I hope you all are taking care of each other even if it’s just checking in on each other with a simple phone call. Stay safe and congratulations to everyone celebrating this special year with me.
Thank you my grandpas Ralph Bent and Eddie Boucher and grandma Chris Terbasket for watching over me from above as I’m doing this for them.