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Graduates of 2012, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, I know you have heard about the state of things in the world. Economic problems in Europe, unemployment worldwide. Tough times. There are many reasons to be fearful about venturing forth into the world, and I know many of you might ask yourself, “Am I tough enough?” Well, let me tell you that you are tough. Valemount has made you that way.

I have seen you walking to school in the wind with the temperature below minus 20. I have seen you back up again after falling on the ice, or off the back of a horse. I have seen you write final exams during a power outage, battle mosquitoes the size of small birds and drive for 8 hours in a blizzard to play basketball and volleyball. I have seen you hobble around the world on crutches, play injured and work double shifts after school.

I witnessed your loss of a classmate when Dean Rondeau passed away. Some of you have lost a parent, a grandparent. Family members. But here you are, with the memories and the strength of those that have passed on. Here you are with the strength that comes from experience, challenge and being who you are in the face of diversity.

You are strong. Tougher than most. But how did you get this way?

Well, this community has a heritage of tough people. Their blood even courses through some of your veins. And for the rest of you, they left a legacy and a tradition of hard work and determination that this town was built on. Literally. Let me tell you about them.

Fulton McKirdy, the first McKirdy, came up the Canoe River from Golden, 250km away, in 1909. More than 100 years ago. He walked here, staked out a homestead ranch, and made the slopes of McKirdy Mountain his home. There were no roads, railroads or any communications at all. Just Fulton, and the supplies he hauled in here on his back and packhorse. That pioneer toughness was in his blood and he passed it down to every McKirdy since. He also raised the toughness bar for the whole community. That legacy lives on in this town and even in this room.

William Blackman – came to Valemount in 1915 with his family. He walked to Prince George in 1916 to register land. That’s a 600km round trip. After clearing a quarter section of land, he died of cancer in 1919 and is buried on the property where he lived.

His wife Katherine was left with 10 children, all under 17 years old. They survived without bug screens or even windows, in a tiny log cabin. She is the real hero. She kept her family alive on what they could grow in the ground and shoot in the bush. Somehow after lots of struggling and hardship, they thrived and eventually spread that survival spirit and determination all over the valley.

Ella Frye was also a great example of tough. She was the first registered female trapped in BC and trapped along in the Albreda area for most of her life. She was known for her toughness and was once seen fighting off a wounded bear with a stick, eventually killing it with a knife cut to the throat while her neighbour watched in awe.

And lastly, Bob Beeson. Our eldest living pioneer, was dissatisfied that Valemount didn’t have a doctor. The government told him that it was because Valemount didn’t have adequate facilities. Not satisfied with that, Bob decided that he and his friends would build a medical clinic. And that’s what he did.

And so, graduates, as you venture out into the world, and blend with all those soft city kids, be confidence in being yourself. Remember who you are. Remember your roots. In tough times and under difficult circumstances, opportunity present themselves to those that are physically and mentally tough enough to pay attention and act on that opportunity. That’s you. Take advantage of the skill set you have developed and inherited. Seize the day. Take charge. Our world and our future will depend on you.

Congratulations, graduates of 2012. Have a safe and wonderful celebration. It has been my pleasure being your principal.

Dan Kenkel,
Principal of Valemount Secondary