When your last name is Zillinger, you’re often the final one called at school.
So Monika Zillinger had no problems waiting patiently outside while the 162 fellow Pleasant Valley Secondary School graduates in Armstrong marched into the Nor-Val Sports Centre ahead of her Wednesday to commence graduation ceremonies.
“I’m always last, so I’m used to it,” laughed Zillinger, 18, who edged out Dalton Zieske for the, er, honour of being the final graduate to enter the arena. “I did have one elementary school teacher who, one time, decided to go the opposite, so I got to go first at least once.”
Listing French instructor Sandra Arthurson as her favourite teacher, Zillinger said prior to the ceremonies that she felt like grad had already happened.
“We’ve had the grad prom, and exams are finished, so it does feel like grad is over,” said Zillinger, who will study engineering at UBCO in the fall.
At the other end of the line was Brandon Aikema, who would be the first to lead the procession into the arena.
Asked if he remembered his first day at PVSS, Aikema replied, “not really.” But he did know that the four years at the school went by really fast, thanks to playing sports, mainly basketball for Adrian Lemaire and the PVSS Saints.
Aikema had one main goal in leading his fellow Class of 2012 mates into Nor-Val:
“I don’t want to trip,” chuckled Aikema, who plans to study business administration at Okanagan College. “I didn’t trip in rehearsal.” (Nor did he stumble during the real thing.)
Grads – many who started together in Grade 6 in 2006 when Len Wood Elementary became a middle school – arrived an hour before the 7 p.m. start to get decked out in their red-and-black school coloured graduation gowns and caps.
They were helped in the Nor-Val Sports Centre by adult volunteers, then they posed for photos in their grad outfits.
Inside the facility, parents, grandparents, family and friends were filling up the seats above and on the floor and, before long, the arena was filled to capacity.
Graduation in a small town is a big night, and one person who understands this is Pat McGregor, PVSS Class of 1980. He was on the concourse ready to watch the youngest of his three children, Darren, pick up his graduation certificate.
“This school is so closely connected to the community, and now, not having a kid in the school is a bit of a disconnect, and tonight is very bittersweet,” said McGregor, who lives still in Armstrong with his wife, Nancy, the former Nancy Connor who he met in the halls of PVSS in 1980 (Nancy graduated from PVSS in 1981).
The Class of 2012 is the first group to graduate since the formation of Len Wood Middle School in 2006.
Getting ready to watch the grads come in, then settle in for the official ceremonies, brought memories of McGregor’s own graduation racing back.
“The class was a little smaller (50 graduates), longer hair, more muscle cars, and the guys were a very close group,” said McGregor, pointing out that four of his PVSS Saints basketball teammates were also in Nor-Val Wednesday to watch their kids graduate.
“And I remember I had a really ugly cream-coloured suit. The suits these days are way nicer than ones we had in 1980.”
Once the graduates arrived inside, PVSS principal Rob MacAulay presided over the evening, which included greetings from Splatsin Indian Band Chief Wayne Christian, school district board member Laurie Myers and superintendent Dave Witt, a musical presentation from grads Elizabeth Bannick and Morgan Lochhead, and the graduation address from popular teacher George Kocsis.
The evening wrapped up with the address from elected valedictorians Cheyanne Nikolaisen and Patrick Palmer. Both said it was an honour to be elected by their peers, and share the stage with one another, and they dedicated the evening to their classmates and their families.
“This is the first and only time that both families – our families at home and our school family – get to celebrate together,” said Palmer.