Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Turning a boring rite into a big hit Intimate celebration for inner-city grads

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I F April showers bring May flowers, then June brings hot, sticky convocation ceremonies. The long-winded assemblies can often seem cumbersome or clichéd, both for the honoured guests and the attendees (just try tallying the number of times you hear "it takes a village" or "pay it forward" next time you attend one of these things).

But sometimes an intimate ceremony really hits the mark.

On Thursday, 11 students graduated from the Youth Recreation Activity Worker program, a joint venture of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg and Red River College.

The program, funded by facets of the municipal and provincial governments, allows young adults from the inner city, who face obstacles such as poverty, learning disabilities, or single parenthood, to get a jump-start on a higher education.

Each grad got to clutch the plastic podium inside the CGA Manitoba Room at Red River College’s Roblin Centre and make a speech about their journey to, and through, the one-year program.

The oral testimonies contained many grateful thanks.

"Thank you to the family and friends for listening to us complain about exams, for providing emotional support for us," said Seneca Morningstar Chartrand. "Thank you to my family... for not lecturing me at 3 a.m. when I was working because ‘Seneca you had three weeks to work on that!’ " "Our instructors, Joanna, Carrie and there was one more guy... He’s kind of old, he wears glasses," joked Chelsea Ann Cochrane about one of her teachers. "I think his name is Randy? Thank you guys for your everyday support."

One of the most touching testimonies came from Shakaib Hassani.

Hassani, 24, struggled to get started with his speech, stumbling over his first few words. He would later reveal English is his fifth language; his native tongue is Dari, a Persian dialect he spoke growing up in Afghanistan.

"When I started this program, I knew college was going to be a challenge for me, especially for me as an immigrant student," said Hassani, who came to Canada in 2009 with his mother and five siblings.

"This was a great year for me. Not only did I complete college, but I also got my Canadian citizenship in January 2014," he said, over a crescendo of applause and perpetual hollers from the crowd of about 60 onlookers.

Hassani explained why the importance of being educated was instilled in him at a young age.

"My father passed away about 18 or 19 years ago. So my mom was a single mom with six kids, and my father was a huge supporter for education," he said. "Because our father wanted this education so much for us, she wants it for us too."

Hassani said his mother is proud of his youth recreational activity worker certificate, but wants him to keep going to school for as long as he can.

"She wants me to study more and get more of an education. She’s saying she’s very happy, but study more, more, more!" he said, laughing.

"My grandfather wouldn’t let (my mother) go to school in Afghanistan... it wasn’t safe for women because of kidnapping (risk)." Hassani plans to continue studying at Red River College next year, where he can transfer the credit hours he’s already amassed towards getting a youth care worker diploma.

"(Moving) was very challenging for my family — new country, new culture, new college, different language, completely different lifestyle... I want to help like I’ve been helped, so other kids can help themselves and their families."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2014 b4

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