Students, staff and proud family members gathered at Inner City High School on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the students’ accomplishments from the past year and the 11 graduates saying farewell. For an outsider looking in, it might not have looked like your typical graduation ceremony with haphazardly placed streamers and a crowd of rambunctious youth finding it hard to sit still. But for the honoured students and guests, it was the perfect celebration marking a milestone many thought they would never see.
Beginning the festivities with a feast of roast chicken, turkey, mashed potatoes and corn, it didn’t take long for the student’s to open up and share their stories of how they came to be at Inner City High. Some had struggled at mainstream high schools, some came from troubled backgrounds, spending time in juvenile correctional facilities or on the street, and others had taken time off to care for their young children. But no matter their social situations, they’ve all found a home and a unique family at Inner City High working toward the common goal of earning a high school diploma to better their lives, and the lives of those around them.
As the buffet line began to wind down and a scrumptious “Congratulations” cake was cut and passed around, the formal program got underway. Prinicipal Joe Cloutier and Artistic Director Alexina Dalgetty, founders of Inner City High School, began by handing out certificates to every student, highlighting their achievements throughout the year. It was hard not to have a permanent smile plastered on your face as you watched the students get up, some shy and some soaking in the moment with a wave to their friends and family, to accept their accolades. Whether they were celebrating their first few credits or were almost done their journey, the applause was deafening from their peers and proud supporters.
“What I love about this place is they let you be you,” said Elder Taz Bouchier, in her speech to the students. “You’re are a part of a family here at Inner City High. You are loved and supported.”
That love and support wasn’t lost on Lisa Gladue, who joined her fellow graduates as they filed into the celebration one behind the other. The crowd yet again broke out in thunderous applause as cameras and cell phones flashed from every direction. For 25-year-old Lisa, this moment was eight years in the making.
“I’ve been going here since I was about 17. A lot of things have happened over the years but they still encouraged me to come back and keep trying. Finally now I’m graduated.”
“They’re really supportive and understanding. No matter how hard the situation may be that you’re going through – and you may not be able to think of a strategy to get out of it – they’ll help you with anything and make you feel confident in yourself. They’ve really helped me a lot.”
With the paparazzi winding down and the grads lined up, each took their turn in the spotlight. The students received their certificate, posed for an official photo and accepted a bouquet of flowers and some small parting presents. Among them was an Edmonton Oilers jersey, presented by Oilers Foundation Chair Richard Wong, to remind the students that no matter where they go, the Foundation will always be a part of their journey.
“It's about youth, it's about education, it's about changing lives in our community,” said Wong to the grads. “We believe in this school. We believe in you.”
In addition to purchasing and renovating Inner City High’s current facility, the Foundation has also provided funding for programs and initiatives, including scholarships for students who choose to pursue a post-secondary education. Lisa would like to be one of those students, hoping to attend the social work program at Norquest College.
“I was inspired by my own youth worker so I wanted to follow in her footsteps and help people that have been in my position have a better future.”
With certificates in hand, the celebration came to an end as the grads gathered to take photos with friends and family. For a select few, college and applied courses are on the horizon, but for many, the question of “What’s next?” is still an unknown. But no matter what lies ahead for these graduates, one thing’s for certain; they will always have Inner City High and the Oilers Foundation cheering them on.