The 15 First Nations students all come from remote northern fly-in communities. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The 15 new graduates of the Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School in Thunder Bay know what it means to overcome obstacles on the way to getting an education.

Many have overcome addictions, grief and terrible loss of family and friends as they struggled to graduate.

The students are all from remote fly-in First Nations communities hundreds of kilometres north of the city.

They stay in boarding homes in Thunder Bay while they attend the school, which is run by the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council.

Principal Jonathan Kakegamic said in his 11 years at the school this group has shown the most perseverance of any.   "Strength, courage: that represents them. Like, they went through so much hurt," he said.


Claudia Linklater delivers her valedictory address as a tribute to her mother, who died just weeks before she wrote her final exams. (Jody Porter/CBC)

About half a dozen of the graduates have conquered addictions on the way to their diplomas.

Others, such as Claudia Linklater, of Sandy Lake, Ont., have suffered terrible losses.

Her cousin was killed last fall. Her mother died this spring, just weeks before she wrote her final exams.

It didn't stop her from delivering this year's valedictory address.

"When I was doing my speech, I fought back tears. But I know that's not what my mom wanted, so I stayed happy," Linklater said.

"Just never stop. You have to keep working. Like, I remember when [former hockey player] Theo Fleury came here, the thing he said was, like, whatever you do, even if it's a hobby, you gotta work, you gotta work, work," she said.

Linklater hopes her hard work will make her chief of her community one day.

Principal Kakegamic's eyes were welling up as the ceremonies — and the school year — came to an end.

"We've seen them go through so much, and just to see the pride in their parents makes it worth it. Yep, it's a good day," he said.

It's a day, he said, for students to remember that nothing can stand in their way.