ADSS valedictorian Maren Longman receives her diploma during a graduation ceremony on June 17. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

ADSS valedictorian Maren Longman receives her diploma during a graduation ceremony on June 17. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Class of 2021 can heal the world, says Alberni valedictorian

Valedictorian Maren Longman talks of loss and hope in her speech to classmates

This year’s Alberni District Secondary School valedictorian, Maren Longman, delivered a compelling speech that touched on loss, respect, challenge and destiny—with a little humour and some cherished memories sprinkled throughout.

Speaking in front of hundreds of your peers and their family members in a large, darkened auditorium is nerve-wracking. Now, imagine delivering the same speech in a nearly empty auditorium, knowing your every movement is being recorded for posterity. That was Longman’s challenge on June 18, 2021, the second consecutive year the ADSS grad ceremonies were delivered virtually.

She began with an acknowledgment to the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations, and honoured classmates from the graduating class who lost their lives but are still cherished.

She addressed ongoing racism in Canada, and said the Class of 2021 is well positioned to do something about it. “When we graduate and go out into the world we have the power to fight one of the greatest issues in society,” she said. “We cannot undo racism, but we can work against it.

“Despite the attempts made to apologize for some of Canada’s horrific past, there is still lots of ongoing racism in Canada. An apology may be the first step, but actions speak greater than words. We are the next generation. For reconciliation to happen, there needs to be awareness of the harm that has been inflicted and what actions can be made to change our behaviours.

“We have the potential to create an accepting, diverse and kind society.”

Longman, who will move to Guelph, Ontario in August to pursue a Bachelor of Science at the University of Guelph, has lived a culture of helping others during her five years of high school. A student of French Immersion, she has also been a dancer and percussionist. She completed a first responders’ course in Grade 12, a personal achievement because it wasn’t an easy course, she said.

Longman has worked as a lifeguard at Echo ‘67 Pool, and felt the course—which is an introduction to being a paramedic—would broaden her knowledge. She has worked at Alberni Valley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Service (ADAPS) and helped create the Be Safe app that gives people, especially youth, a way to create a safety plan before they are in crisis. It is part of her desire to create a safe environment for youth in Port Alberni.

Her end game, she said, is to enter the psychiatric field of medicine. “Psychological treatment and mental health is something I’m really passionate about. Treating people who need psychological help is my end goal of what I want to do.”

During her speech, Longman noted her classmates “are destined for wonderful things.” She said the graduating class includes an Olympic wrestler, artists and musicians, an aspiring, disease-curing scientist “and one day, we might just find the face of one of our peers on a hundred-dollar bill.”

She thanked the teachers that devoted so much of their time to this grad class, and talked about the trends that came and went over the past five years..

“I am immensely proud of every single student graduating this year,” Longman said. “As a group, we have learned how to get back up after defeat. Being a teenager is already hard enough but being a teenager in a pandemic is overwhelming.

“To quote Nelson Mandela, ‘the greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.’”

She challenged the Class of 2021 to “never underestimate yourself. We have achieved the unimaginable and persevered through adversity.

“We are already exceeding expectations.”

Graduation 2021Port Alberni