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GDI Holds First-Ever Virtual Graduation for SUNTEP Class of 2020

By James Oloo

Jun 5, 2020

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Gabriel Dumont Institute held its first ever virtual graduation ceremony to honor the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) Prince Albert Class of 2020 on May 14, 2020.


While everyone at SUNTEP and the Institute at large had hoped to celebrate the joyous occasion at the E. A. Rawlinson Centre for The Arts in Prince Albert, this could not be possible because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Geordy McCaffrey, GDI Executive Director, Bonnie Novotny, the Head of SUNTEP Prince Albert, and SUNTEP Prince Albert faculty and staff thanked and congratulated the 17 graduates.


The graduates included Shelby Constant, Susan Cox, Leah Drabot, Jennifer Durocher, Tia Ewashko, Amanda Hoey, Fayth Kaiswatum, Brett Little, Nicole Magnin, Ryan Munshaw, Jolene Peters, Kelsey Petit, Kelley Scriven, Ashley Smith, Brandi Soles, Tiffany Ross, and Cylie Williams.


“Graduation is a time of celebration and accomplishment for students,” Said Bonnie Novotny. “It is a privilege to be part of SUNTEP Prince Albert students’ journey as they go through self-discovery, academic and personal accomplishments, and the ultimate success of completing their degree.” Bonnie, who is a SUNTEP Prince Albert graduate, asserted that “I know first-hand how empowering the program is. The students leave SUNTEP with friends, a sense of belonging, and a strong understanding of Metis and First Nations culture.”


Geordy McCaffrey noted, “Everyone at the Institute is proud of the hard work, resilience and adaptability of the SUNTEP Prince Albert Class of 2020 in the face of the pandemic and what has become an unprecedented celebration of their achievement.”


A common thread across the comments made by the graduates was positive words of gratitude and appreciation.


Shelby Constant said, “I want to thank staff at SUNTEP for their commitment and support over the past four years. I thank my family, without them, I would not be here today. I want to also thank me for not quitting and for doing the hard work.”


Jennifer Durocher said, “SUNTEP has been my family for the past four years. I am grateful for my children for all the support and patience, and for my mom and sister who were always just a phone call away. Thank you to my coop teacher who was very supportive.”


Tia Ewashko was quite candid in her reflection: “This journey was not always easy. So, I want to thank those who helped me along the way. SUNTEP Faculty, and the Catholic School Division for welcoming me with open arms and all the support during my practicum. I thank my students who were always in their best behavior, especially, when we had guests come in. Thanks to my friends and family. I am proud of myself and my classmates.”


Amanda Hoey stated, “I thank my Creator, SUNTEP, and my mentors for each internship I had. A huge thank you to my mom and Dad.”


Fayth Kaiswatum explained why she was grateful: “SUNTEP has changed my life for the better. I am grateful to become an Indigenous role model for all the kids out there that need somebody just like I did. It was tough being a mom and full time student. But the people around me were loving, caring, and understanding.” She continued, “Because of SUNTEP supportive environment, I was able to earn my degree. I am excited about the future.”


“My mom has always been there for me,” said Brett Little. “When I told her that I will be graduating with a bachelor of education degree, she cried and said she was very proud of me. Now I can support my mom, she has helped me throughout my journey.”


Referring to SUNTEP as a “movement,” Jolene Peters said, “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of a movement I am so passionate about. Thank you for the four years of cries, laughs, support, and encouragement.”


SUNTEP, like other GDI programs, incorporates Métis culture and ways of knowing. Kelsey Petit stated, “I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of something that helped me explore my culture, roots, and identity, in a welcoming space to help me grow in order to become a successful teacher. I conquered many obstacles.”


These are a small sample of the words spoken by the SUNTEP Prince Albert Class of 2020. We could not include quotes from all the 17 graduates because of space.


Michael Relland, the Gabriel Dumont College Program Head, was the keynote speaker for the SUNTEP Prince Albert virtual graduation ceremony. He stated, “This graduation is special to you as individuals and also for SUNTEP. This year we celebrate SUNTEP’s 40th anniversary. You are joining just under 1,400 other SUNTEP graduates out there who have helped transformed education in Saskatchewan.”


Noting that nothing worthwhile is ever easy, Michael said, “This grad shows that you are probably stronger than you ever thought, that you have lots of perseverance, ability to sacrifice, and have a drive to be successful. Not just for yourself, but also for your family. Education teaches you who you are, and helps you find your place in the world.”


While wishing the graduates success as they leave SUNTEP, Michael asserted thus, “You have chosen a honourable profession where you can make a real difference in this world, and make the world a better place. I hope you enjoy your time working in the schools. Wishing you best of luck moving forward, and I hope you have a wonderful career.


GDI offers SUNTEP in Prince Albert and Saskatoon in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan, and in Regina in partnership with the University of Regina. Graduation ceremonies for SUNTEP Saskatoon and SUNTEP Regina have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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