British Columbia·Q&A

Meet Kiera Yeomans: the Vancouver School Board's Indigenous valedictorian for 2022

Indigenous valedictorian Kiera Yeoman's spoke with On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko ahead of the Vancouver School Board's Indigenous Graduation Ceremony — an annual celebration of the Indigenous graduates in the district.

Graduates take the stage this month after 2 years of pandemic learning

Kiera Yeomans, left, is excited to be graduating with her classmates, in person, after two years of pandemic learning. She is pictured here with her Indigenous Education teacher, Nekita Garcia-Gravel. (Submitted by Nekita Garcia-Gravel)

Graduates take the stage this month, and for some, it hits different — after two years of virtual learning and pandemic life, crossing the finish line means that much more. 

Kiera Yeomans, a graduate of Britannia Secondary School in Vancouver, has been selected as the Vancouver School Board's Indigenous valedictorian.

The title is awarded to an Indigenous graduate each year to address fellow Indigenous classmates at the district's Indigenous Graduation Ceremony, a time set aside to celebrate culture and honour future Indigenous leaders. During the ceremony, families look on as grads are given a Susan Point Salmon pendant, followed by a feast.

Britannia Secondary School Indigenous Education Teacher Nekita Garcia-Gravel says the class of 2022 has been resilient throughout their education, fighting for what they believe is right.

"This resiliency that this class has had with all of the changes and the uncertainties of the pandemic and just being role models for the younger grades and persevering," she said. "They've really left a mark at our school."

She and Yeomans spoke with On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko ahead of the ceremony.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

It's graduation season for thousands of B.C. teens this month, and ceremonies seem to be happening in-person again. CBC speaks with the Indigenous Valedictorian from Britannia Secondary School's class of 2022, to find out what this time means to her.

How does it feel to be graduating? 

Yeomans: It feels very exciting after going through two years of the pandemic and now finally graduating. Really exciting. 

You're the Indigenous valedictorian this year. What does that mean to you? 

Yeomans: I moved down to Vancouver when I was in Grade 3 and attended Britannia Elementary, and at that point, I lost connection with all of my culture. Learning to adapt and learning a bit of the culture down here really brought me back to everything around me. And then I thought, Oh, I should run for valedictorian because I've also [been] the Indigenous representative on my school student council for, I think, three years. I just wanted to get my voice heard. 

What does it take for a student to become an Indigenous valedictorian? 

Garcia-Gravel: I think it depends definitely on the student and on the year. I think the last couple of years have been difficult and challenging. Kiera is a role model and a leader among her peers, someone that everyone really looks up to and really likes. She's known to be kind and has a lot of friends —I think there's an element of popularity. 

What have you been observing as you got to know Kiera over the past few years? 

Garcia-Gravel: I met her in Grade 9. She was on the shyer side and just watching her grow into this strong, independent young woman who I have full confidence is going to be successful, and her life has been really amazing. It's also been emotional. I have a really great connection with Kiera, so it's going to be really difficult to see her leave. But I'm also so happy for her and so proud of her. 

Kyra, you've been accepted to Langara College. What are you going to study? 

Yeomans: For my first year, I'll be studying health studies, and then I'll be transferring into nursing, where I'll be specializing in pediatric nursing. 

Nekita, what's going through your mind seeing Kiera and all her friends graduate? 

Garcia-Gravel: I'm happy for them, but it's going to be quite emotional for us. I think a lot of the teachers in our school were very much sad to see this particular grade go. It's a mixed bag of emotions.

With files from On The Coast