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Two valedictorians have one message
Jamie Wetrade-Stevenson and Noelene Nitsiza say 'never give up'

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Monday, June 19, 2017

Jamie Wetrade-Stevenson and Noelene Nitsiza had one message for fellow graduates and students at Chief Jimmy Bruneau School (CJBS) during their valedictory speeches; never give up.

NNSL photograph

Noelene Nitsiza and Jamie Wetrade-Stevenson were this year's valedictorians at Chief Jimmy Bruneau School's graduation ceremony May 25. - photo courtesy of Patricia Turner

"I wanted other people to know that you can fail a whole semester and still be able to graduate on time," Wetrade-Stevenson said. "You could go through one of the toughest moments of your life and still come out to where you want to be."

Wetrade-Stevenson, 18, moved from Behchoko to Yellowknife last year to complete her final year of high school at Sir John Franklin High School.

"The first month of that semester was going by pretty good, I didn't think I was going to run into any problems," she said.

But as the months passed, Wetrade-Stevenson found that she was growing more and more unhappy. Away from friends and family, she began to feel overwhelmed and lonely, all of which affected her school work.

"I just couldn't do it anymore but I didn't want to tell anyone, I ended up getting a lot of anxiety, I thought I was falling into depression," she said. "I ended up failing every class."

She then decided to move back to Behchoko and re-enrol at Chief Jimmy Bruneau School. That decision changed everything.

"I felt whole again, I felt happier," she said. "I felt like I could actually succeed there. I got the grades and I'm able to get my high school diploma, even being a semester behind."

It took a lot of hard work and perseverance but Wetrade-Stevenson said she now knows the importance of determination.

She said she hopes overcoming her difficulties will inspire others to do the same.

"It's not too late and you can still accomplish your goals," she said.

As Wetrade-Stevenson's story highlighted, having support is key to success, said fellow valedictorian Noelene Nitsiza, 17.

In her on May 25 speech, she thanked the parents, families and educators who helped students on their journeys toward graduation.

"I just wanted to get them to realize that they didn't make it on their own and they are never alone," she said.

She also asked her fellow graduates to recognize the power within themselves.

"I wanted them to appreciate how hard they worked to come and achieve such a big goal and such a great milestone in their lives," she said.

The speech also looked back on how much students had changed over the years, as well as asking them to reflect on the people who have supported them and the experiences and opportunities they had at CJBS.

One of the most important people both girls mentioned was principal Patricia Turner.

"I would just hoping they would be appreciative of the people who have pushed them and the people who have supported them throughout their high school experience, especially Patti," Nitsiza said. "I love this school."

The feeling is mutual, Turner said.

"They are enjoyable to be around as students and as people," she said. "Both of them worked really hard to get here."

Though they had roadblocks along the way, Wetrade-Stevenson and Nitsiza overcame their challenges to graduate high school.

"I think both of them exemplify the idea that you should never give up, no matter what you're going through, you should always have goals and keep working towards them," she said. "Both of them have not taken the straightest path to graduation but have always come back no matter what they've been going through."

Now that she's finished, Nitsiza is planning to take the Nursing Access program at Aurora College in Yellowknife as a step toward earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She said she plans to return to the North once finished her education.

"This is home," she said. "This is where I want my kids to grow up, it's where I want to help people."

Wetrade-Stevenson said she applied to Grande Prairie Regional College to do the academic upgrading she needs to apply to Mount Royal University's Sport and Recreation Management program.

She is currently working with Behchoko's recreation department and said she plans to return north once she finishes her education.

But for now, she said she is still trying to

"It's a very proud feeling," she said. "I don't have words to describe how I'm feeling about my future right now."

Turner said the CJBS graduation ceremony was well-attended.

"Thank you to everybody to come out and showed their support, we had a lot of parents and lots of families," she said. "It was a really positive event. It was a good celebration."

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