Sagkeeng high school marks graduation of Serena McKay with diploma, red gown after death in April

When the class of 2017 in a Manitoba First Nation walked on stage to graduate Friday, one chair was left empty, dedicated to the memory of a classmate who died earlier this year.

Award also given out in name of teen worth $1,000

(Submitted by Claude Guimond)

When the class of 2017 from a Manitoba First Nation high school walked on stage to graduate Friday, one chair was left empty, dedicated to the memory of a classmate who died earlier this year.

Serena McKay was 19 and poised to graduate in Sagkeeng First Nation when she was killed in April.

Two girls, 16 and 17, were charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death. Both also attended the school and lived in the community, about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. 

Principal Claude Guimond of Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School said the students wanted to honour her memory.

At their suggestion, the school left a seat empty in the centre of the stage and draped it in a red graduation gown, Guimond said, adding red dresses are used to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women.

On top of the gown was a graduation cap and a sign with McKay's name written on it.

"It was driven by the students and of course we the staff are going to back up our students," he said.

The school also awarded McKay a posthumous diploma. It was the first one handed out Friday, presented to her mother on her behalf. Her mother was also given the graduation clothing, and a graduation ring donated by the company that provided them to other students.

"Well, she was one of us. She came to school, our school," Guimond said. "Like I say, every kid in that school is like my kid, and I'm sure all the staff felt the same way, too. We lost one of our kids."

Guimond added the school created a $1,000 award in McKay's name to be presented every year to students based on participation in the arts and humanities, which Guimond said McKay loved.

Guimond said McKay's death left a mark on students and residents in Sagkeeng.

"It's a close-knit community and like I said, we're like a big family here. You know, with the tragic event that took her life and stuff … it really hit everybody in the community, you know, and it resonated right across the country," he said.