Class of 2020: Voices of the future

CBC Calgary wanted to make sure that, despite the pandemic, local school valedictorians got their moment to share their message with the world. So we asked them to send videos of their speeches to share with our audience.

Introducing Calgary's high school valedictorians

CBC Calgary presents Calgary's 2020 high school valedictorians. (CBC)

COVID-19 may have cancelled graduation ceremonies, but it hasn't cancelled graduation. 

As Calgary's Grade 12 students prepare to move on to their next chapter, they're doing it without most of  the usual pomp and circumstance marking the hard work they put in over the years. No large scale graduation dinners or dances, no goodbye parties, no valedictorian speeches in caps and gowns before big crowds.

Some schools and families have found unique ways to hold ceremonies. 

CBC Calgary wanted to make sure that, despite the pandemic, school valedictorians got their moment to share their message with the world. 

So we asked them to send videos of their speeches, and provide a few words about themselves. We share them below, and we will be adding videos as they come in.

This is the class of 2020.

Mikayla Gale - St. Timothy High School

My name is Mikayla Gale. I was born in Calgary, and raised in Cochrane. During my time at St. Timothy, I made it a priority to spend time giving back to my community. I sat as a student representative on council, participated in the Cochrane Youth Council, volunteered with various organizations, established a small, successful business that regularly gives back to my community, and worked a second job while maintaining my academic average. Although this pandemic has prevented us from the traditional graduation we all imagined, I am so thankful and honoured for the opportunity to address my fellow 2020 graduates. I plan to pursue a bachelors in biology at Mount Royal University, and ultimately chase my dreams of becoming a doctor.

Jenna Holloway - Father Lacombe High School

Father Lacombe High School is proud to recognize recent graduate and valedictorian, Jenna Holloway. An accomplished International Baccalaureate student, Jenna was recently honoured by the University of Calgary and presented with the Schulich Award for academic excellence, leadership, and volunteerism.

Alex Matsuoka - St. Francis High School

My name is Alex Matsuoka, and I am a proud graduate of St. Francis High School. During the past three years, I have been on the Brown's track and field, cross country and field hockey teams. I was a member of student council and maintained Honours with Excellence. During my free time at St. Francis I was most likely found napping in the cafeteria or walking to CB's with friends. Being a Brown to me doesn't just mean throwing on a jersey or registering in classes, it means living our lives through the tradition enriched in our school, and trying to encompass all it means to be a Brown on a daily basis. Although I am sad to be leaving St. Francis, I am excited for the future as I am committed to the University of Oregon on a lacrosse scholarship and plan to major in business. Once a Brown, always a Brown!

Mya George -  Notre Dame Collegiate

Mya is a hardworking, academic student whose resourcefulness, insight and passion have allowed her leadership qualities to be demonstrated at school and in the community. Mya's leadership is exemplified through the Notre Dame Collegiate ME to WE service team. Along with organizing the yearly "We Scare Hunger" and "We Walk for Water" campaigns, Mya has been the driving force behind the "We Speak Up" initiative at our school raising awareness for Mental Health. She is also actively involved in the Synthetic Biology team, leader in the Guides and Pathfinders and represented Notre Dame Collegiate in the SHAD program.  She truly made our school a better place to be and will be dearly missed by all.

Cade Baldwin - Notre Dame Collegiate

Cade truly embodies the spirit of academic excellence and leadership. He generously gives his time and talents to volunteer causes, youth development in sport, as well as his teammates/classmates, all without sacrificing the high academic standards he has set for himself. Aside from academic excellence, perhaps one of Cade's most outstanding characteristics is his independence of thought and his willingness to express those thoughts respectfully, a hallmark of true leadership. Cade sees his gifts and abilities not as a crown for his own head, but instead as an obligation to share when it benefits others, thereby enriching the experience of everyone around him.

Nicole Noble - Notre Dame High School

Nicole is an extremely successful and dedicated young lady. Throughout her three years at Notre Dame High School, she maintained honour roll status with an average of over 90 per cent in grades 10, 11 and 12. Nicole accomplished academic success while participating in five sports teams at Notre Dame, as well as playing for the Calgary Blizzard Soccer Club. Nicole has been accepted to MacEwan University in Edmonton, where she will continue playing soccer. She has been accepted in the Bachelor of Science faculty, majoring in biological sciences.

Umut Emre - Robert Thirsk High School

Hi, I am Umut from Robert Thirsk High School. I have a passion for all things math, science and programming that I like to explore beyond the classroom. Although our school has not had an official team to compete in academic contests, I have competed in several competitions on my own and with teams of my friends from Thirsk as a fun challenge. There were periods throughout high school where at any given time you could see me in the school lab, or in a friend's garage trying to blow something up (safely) — or put something back together. When I'm not doing productive things I spend time roaming the city with friends, eating ice cream and playing video games — but I guess I see these things as productive too, just in their own ways. In the fall I will be further pursuing my interests in programming by going into software engineering.

Hayden Fast - Jack James High School

Hayden Fast is a graduating student from Jack James High School. Hayden has built positive relationships with staff and students during his time at Jack James. He discovered his interest in becoming an electrician very early on in his high school career after exploring opportunities in both construction and autobody. Hayden successfully completed the dual credit pre-employment electrician program at SAIT during his Grade 12 year. He was also training for the provincial skills competition in the electrical installations category before the event was cancelled due to COVID-19. After graduation, Hayden plans on working toward his electrical journeyman certification.

Emily Dittmer and Hiten Mahalwar - John G. Diefenbaker High

John G. Diefenbaker High School wasn't able to complete its valedictorian selection process this year because of COVID-19. Instead, the school has submitted a speech from its graduation chairs.

My name is Emily Dittmer. As a 2020 graduate of John G. Diefenbaker High School, I was very fortunate to have had a great experience throughout my past three years. As a Diefenbaker Chief and leadership team executive, I was very involved in roles such as reporting daily announcements and organizing events such as barbecues and pep rallies. I also enjoyed emceeing many of these pep rallies and events such as our school's bikeathon which raised funds for the Alberta Children's Hospital. I was a member of the student council, the principal's advisory council, and was honoured to be co-chair of our graduation committee. I stay active by hiking and skiing alongside playing for my school soccer and field hockey team. Although this wasn't the ending I expected, I'm extremely thankful for the friendships and lessons acquired throughout high school as it has helped shape the person I am today. I am excited to be attending the University of Calgary in the fall. 

Hiten Mahalwar is a graduating partial International Baccalaureate (IB) student from John G. Diefenbaker. Through his involvement as the executive chair of his school's leadership team, Hiten has worked to organize pep rallies, barbecues, and other events for the student body. In addition to his volunteer work, Hiten also likes to stay active by playing basketball, soccer, and running for his school's track and field team. Through his work at the bikeathon fundraiser, the Alberta Children's Hospital youth council, and the principal's council, Hiten is always looking to stay involved and give back to the community. This fall, Hiten is excited to be studying engineering at the University of Calgary. 

Kaylee Martensen - Louise Dean School

Kaylee Martensen is a 19-year-old mom to her daughter Everley. She attended Louise Dean School, a school for pregnant and parenting moms who are looking to finish their high school education. Kaylee is a hard-working, determined person who enjoys helping others. She wants other young parents to know that they are not alone and that they are able to achieve anything they put their minds to.

Jonah Richards - Forest Lawn High School

Jonah Richards is valedictorian for the Forest Lawn High School Class of 2020. Jonah's hard work, outstanding writing skills and insightful thinking allowed him to excel in the school's Advanced Placement program throughout his high school career.

Emma Radford - Joane Cardinal-Schubert High School

I'm Emma Radford. I was born in St. John's Newfoundland. Joane Cardinal-Schubert High School has strengthened my love for theatre and choir. I aspire to be a psychologist or a teacher. I spend my time writing, volunteering at the Family Centre at the YMCA, and having friends over for karaoke night. I am honoured to be the very first valedictorian of JCS and share my speech with others. 

Rui Holowenczak - St. Anne Academic Centre

Hi my name is Rui. I moved here to Calgary when I was five years old from Beijing, China. I enjoy playing sports, singing and being around friends and family. My plan for the near future is to complete my medical office assistant course at SAIT, and start working soon. Afterwards, I would love to get into cosmetology, and maybe work with my mom who owns her own salon.

Daniela Szeoke - Bishop O'Byrne High School

Daniela Szeoke is a full International Baccalaureate student, graduating from Bishop O'Byrne High School. She has excelled academically from a young age, going from being the top of her junior high's gifted class to being the valedictorian of her high school. Szeoke is particularly strong in the arts and has won first and second place in numerous art competitions at the provincial and national levels. Through her art and her volunteer work, she promotes multiculturalism and the representation of minority groups. Szeoke will soon be attending the Alberta University of the Arts, which has offered her two scholarships.

Natalie Greenfield - Crescent Heights High School

Hi my name is Natalie, and I am a synchronized swimming, Star Wars and Lego-loving intellectual, who also likes to cold water surf. I have a deep passion for learning both inside and out of the classroom and am an avid reader of the news. I love hanging out with friends, eating ice cream and swimming for my high school's swim team. Go Cowboys! Water is my happy place, which explains why I train with the Calgary Aquabelles more than 24 hours every week. My most recent accomplishment is winning team gold at the 2019 Canada Winter Games. Outside of being a student athlete, I volunteer at Brown Bagging it for Kids where I prepare lunches before school. It is greatly rewarding to see the difference that one can make for the members of their community. Next year I will be heading down south to swim for Stanford, study bioengineering and take in the sun.

Class of 2020 — Centennial High School

The tradition at Centennial High School is to hold an annual "speech off" to determine who the valedictorian will be. That was supposed to happen the week after spring break, but due to COVID-19, the event didn't happen. Instead, the school decided to have a "collective" valedictorian, made up of the applicants and their respective speeches. They have woven together parts of each speech to create the Centennial High School Collective Valedictory Address to the Class of 2020. The message looks back on their journey through school and provides inspiration, hope and a varied reflection of their time in the public-school system.

Zoe Smith — St. Gabriel the Archangel

My name is Zoe Smith, and I am a graduating student from St. Gabriel the Archangel's class of 2020. Throughout high school, I participated on the school's soccer, volleyball, basketball and badminton teams, including being athlete of the year the past two years thus far. 

Post-graduation, I plan to take my studies into the faculty of science at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus! Leaving such a tight-knit community, I am excited to venture my educational journey into Kelowna, and I hope to leave behind an impactful imprint on the SGA and Chestermere communities.

Wesley Fairhurst — St. Mary's High School

I am very involved in sports both inside and outside of school. In particular, I have played ringette since I was six. At St. Mary's, I played volleyball and badminton, but my favourite part of St. Mary's was all of the incredible relationships and friendships. I actually really like school and was proud to receive the Honour Society Gold Medallion for maintaining honour roll all three years. This summer, I am working at Starbucks, and next year, I will be studying international development at StFX University! I can't wait! 

Israa Hassan — Lester B. Pearson High School

Hi my name is Israa and I'm 17 years old. Some of my hobbies include traveling, trying new foods and hanging out with friends. Over the past three years in high school, I have had the opportunity to volunteer and help out with a variety of amazing causes that I hope I will be able to continue to support in the years to come, including volunteering with the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind and at Parent Link Centre. I was also a member of my school's social justice club, the culinary team and I sat on the principal's advisory council. In the future, I will be hopefully attending university for business, and one day I hope to be able to work with a company that creates change!

Maddie Gebhardt — Central Memorial High School

My name is Maddie Gebhardt and I'm a student at Central Memorial High School in Calgary. Throughout my high school career, I have been lucky enough to meet so many different people who all influenced me in some way, shape or form. Whether it was my family, friends, teachers or my cat, I'm extremely thankful for how they shaped me into the person that I am today. Being chosen valedictorian and being able to speak to the student body was something I had dreamed of since I was small. Even though it looked a lot different this year, the opportunities given to me to still be able to speak to my peers have been so amazing! I hope you enjoy my speech. I know I had a lot of fun making it.

Kyle Story — Lord Beaverbrook High School

Kyle Story will be found enjoying the post-secondary lifestyle with his friends at the University of Calgary in the fall, where he will be pursuing a bachelor of science, majoring in biochemistry. He hopes to have enough free time during his studies to continue as a swim instructor and lifeguard to pass his love of the water on to another generation. Kyle is known as a snow-loving, shorts-wearing, quick-witted individual who takes pride in having played jazz trombone and badminton at Lord Beaverbrook High School. 

Alana Stahl — Lord Beaverbrook High School

Alana Stahl is a 17-year-old student who grew up in Calgary in a family of four. Both of her parents are from farms, which Alana loves visiting as an escape from the city. Alana has always had and continues to have a passion for sports. She has played competitive soccer and participated in figure skating, swimming, badminton, gymnastics and aerial acrobatics. She is also involved in music, playing both piano and clarinet. The Calgary Youth Orchestra is just one of the ensembles she has been involved in. Alana finds school very important and always strives for achievement. She has been named to the honour roll and has received various service and athletic citizenship awards throughout high school. Independence is one of Alana's strongest characteristics, which grew stronger a couple of months before starting her first year of high school. Losing her mom to cancer impacted her in ways unimaginable. Alana cherishes every moment spent with family and friends and is thankful for all individuals who have positively affected her life. Alana is excited to be studying biomechanics in the faculty of kinesiology at the University of Calgary in the fall.

Bilal Shakir — James Fowler High School

I am the son of Pakistani-Canadian immigrants. I was brought to Canada at a young age and am a 17-year-old graduate from James Fowler High School. I aspire to become a psychiatrist one day and am going into the biomedical sciences program at the University of Calgary. I volunteer around my community and school regularly and love working with other people. My hobbies include reading books, watching movies and playing soccer. 

Grace Halpin — Bowness High School

My name is Grace Halpin. I am 18 years old and a proud fifth generation Calgarian. I go to Bowness High School and I have loved every minute of high school. I love spending time with my best friends, playing hockey, going on road trips and volunteering. I volunteer with Special Olympics Calgary and it's one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I am going to UBC Okanagan in the fall to pursue a bachelor of human kinetics, and I hope to be an occupational therapist one day.

Reeana Tazreean — Nelson Mandela High School

Throughout her three years at Nelson Mandela High School, Reeana has made a lasting impression on both teachers and peers within the building. High academic achievement is a given among those aspiring to be valedictorian, but Reeana stood out because of her unwavering positivity and passion for fostering relationships between students to create a "family" feeling in our community of learning. Her contributions to the school community include membership in the Youth Champions Student Leadership Team, a cast member in the drama productions of Romeo and Juliet and Almost, Maine, as well as emceeing significant school events such as awards ceremonies and our Remembrance Day celebrations. Thank you, Reeana, for the many ways in which you have helped us to become united, and congratulations on being selected as the valedictorian for Nelson Mandela High School Class of 2020.

Alexander Tonelli — Western Canada High School

My name is Alex Tonelli, and I am Western's class valedictorian this year. A few things about me, I'm an avid musician — I'm a member of my school band and I play the double bass in the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. I also love sports, and at Western I've competed with my school soccer and cross-country running teams. In school over the past three years, I've been working toward obtaining an International Baccalaureate high school diploma, and next year I'm going to be studying at Trinity College at the University of Toronto. If I'm not playing music, playing sports or studying, you can probably find me hanging out with my friends, or getting out to the mountains to bike, hike and ski.