Winnipeg’s Southeast Collegiate (SEC) twelfth-graders flipped their cap tassels over Friday at the school’s annual spring graduation ceremony.

“I feel pretty nervous about today,” said 17-year-old Wade Keeper. “Kept waking up every hour.”

Southeast Collegiate

Keeper lost his grandfather last year, his father at Christmas, and a grandmother this Spring, but he pushed on and was the valedictorian of the Southeast Collegiate 2014 graduating class (CBC)

Keeper, SEC’s graduating class valedictorian, has called the school home the last three years.

“I never thought I'd be leaving this place,” said Keeper.

This year has not been an easy one for Keeper, who is from Little Grand Rapids.

Keeper lost his grandfather last year, his father at Christmas, and a grandmother this Spring.

“My dad told me just to keep going, don't let it bother me,” he said. “I remembered the words my dad said: Don't give up on something.”

Next year Keeper will take on Aboriginal self-governance, continuing the dream he wished to pursue alongside his father.

“I told my dad that ‘I will be a councillor with you,’” said keeper.

Keeper’s mother Delvina flew in from Little Grand Rapids to see her son on the momentous day.

“I'm very happy and excited and very proud,” said Delvina. “I just wish his dad was here.”

95 per cent graduation rate

Sheryl McCorrister, principal of SEC, said this year’s graduation class marks a success for the collegiate, too.

"I think [Wade is] the perfect role model for a lot of these youth," said McCorrister. "If they believe in themselves, the can do it."

This year the school saw a 95 per cent graduation rate, impressive when compared against the on-reserve average of 36 per cent.

“Southeast Collegiate is doing something right here and these young people today are the product of that hard work and effort and that commitment,” said McCorrister.

She said the staff makes all the difference.

“We treat them like family,” she said. “We go above and beyond and in some cases a lot of the kids that walk through these doors, this is their last chance at a good education and we really try to support them and work with them."

McCorrister said a lot of the graduates will go on to post-secondary studies.

Keeper hopes to stand as an inspiring example for his peers in lower grades.

“It's the time that we spent together that matters, not how we left it,” Keeper told fellow graduates in his valedictory speech. “We will meet soon, my friends. as we move on with our lives.”