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West Coast celebrates Ucluelet Secondary School’s Class of 2023

The USS Grad Class is about to set sail
Members of USS’ Class of 2023 Lothar Myck, Koyah Morgan-Bank, Jaida Neilson, Elsa Wagner and Krista Wagner smiled over their yearbooks at the school’s library last week. (Andrew Bailey photo)

The USS Grad Class is about to set sail.

The West Coast is getting ready to unleash its next group of graduates into the world and the community will cheer Ucluelet Secondary School’s Class of 2023 into their next adventures at a graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 24, at 2 p.m.

The school’s principal Drew Ryan told the Westerly News that this year’s graduates are as “incredible” as the communities that raised them.

“They’re just a well-rounded, empathetic group of learners, not only dedicated to their studies and doing well and a very academic group of students, but also social-emotional and community oriented,” Ryan said. “It’s an amazing, well-rounded group of individuals and just incredible kids…It starts with the foundation, which is obviously the families and communities that support that.”

He added that the graduating class brought a high level of passion and drive to a variety of interests both at school and in their communities.

“It’s been an amazing year. It’s a great group that’s leaving us. I know a lot of them want to circle around and come back at some point,” he said. “We just continue to develop great kids here. I really appreciate the time I get to spend with them and I look forward to not only this graduation, but the next ones to come.”

He suggested the West Coast’s isolation and dependence on community teaches young locals about the importance of connections, adding that USS students benefit from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and experiences.

“Our schools out here are very eclectic. We’re kind of the melting pots,” he said, noting larger cities generally have schools that split up socio-economic populations.

“At our schools, everyone is here, which I think should be a true reflection of society and how we learn from all of our stretches and strengths and, in the end, become more well-rounded and benefit from that.”

He added this year’s grads are heading into their next journeys with determination and an appreciation of their home communities.

“I know they’ll take with them resiliency. This class and last year’s as well as the classes that are coming up, have experienced COVID and lockdowns. How that impacted them academically and socially-emotionally has produced, I think, a real fire for moving on and working and striving. I’m very certain we’ll see lots of success out of this group,” he said

“I think that they will reflect back that this was a great place to grow up and be able to make mistakes and know that there’s not only families, but larger communities around them ready to dust them off and get them back on the path. I think they’ll leave and feel that they were very blessed to have grown up in our communities.”

Krista Wagner, 18, is heading to Blanche MacDonald in Vancouver to study cosmetology.

“My uncle works in the movie industry and I got to go on set with him a couple of times and it really made me interested in cosmetology,” Wagner told the Westerly, adding her mom completed her Master’s Degree in Vancouver, so she is familiar with the big city.

“I want to thank my grandparents, my parents and my twin sister. My mom and dad really pushed me to go on in schooling and my grandma really wanted me to test what I can actually do out of high school and to bring our culture into different things.”

She added that she enjoyed her time at USS and was grateful for the support she received from her teachers and classmates.

“You get to know your teachers more on a personal level. They understand your different needs and strengths in classwork and they really understand where you’re coming from as a person,” she said.

Elsa Wagner, 18, made the most of her last year of high school by pushing herself to participate in more activities than years prior.

“It was so much fun,” she said. “I got to do a whole bunch more trips this year and I ended up doing a whole bunch more sports than I usually do and made so many more memories than I did in the other years. I feel like I connected with everybody this year.”

She added she is grateful for the support she received from her family, teachers and classmates.

“Thank you for sticking by me and always believing in me and knowing I could do it,” she said.

A dislocated elbow suffered during a wrestling match last year proved fortuitous for Wagner as she is heading to Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo to study kinesiology on her way to a career in physiotherapy.

“I ended up going to physiotherapy and I really enjoyed going and getting my strength back in my elbow and being able to go back into wrestling this year. So, that helped me figure out what I wanted to do,” she said, adding she’s excited about life in Nanaimo.

“I feel like it’s kind of my own place to myself where I can be myself and learn how to be on my own, but I’m still close to home where I can visit my family.”

Lothar Myck, 17, moved to the West Coast from Edmonton when he was in Grade 4 and is now set to return to the prairies to study music at the Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton.

“The city will be a big change, but most of my family is still living there so I’ll get to catch up with my family,” he said, adding he hopes to find a career doing “something creative and something that’s contributing to more than just myself.”

Myck said he enjoyed growing up in the West Coast’s natural surroundings.

“There’s lots of unique opportunities here, the outdoors and nature is definitely a big draw,” he said. “Being in a smaller community, you have more opportunities to engage in group and community centred activities like going to the beach for a class, doing outdoor education and oceanography.”

Koyah Morgan-Banke, 17, grew up in Tofino where she blossomed into a significant pillar of the local art community.

“It’s a really small town so I got to know a lot of people. I would say I’m highly influenced by a lot of the local artists and local people,” she said. “We have a great art scene to grow up around. The ratio of artists to other professions in Tofino is crazy.”

She said her classmates were “awesome” and she enjoyed making friends from other communities attending the same school.

Morgan-Banke is heading to UBC in Vancouver with the hopes of majoring in microbiology or immunology.

“Eventually I would like to be a surgeon,” she said, noting she enjoyed “the back and forth” between arts and sciences.

“I feel like there’s a much greater need for people going into the medical field right now considering there’s global shortages and we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that if you can do it, if you’re capable of doing it, you probably should,” she said.

She added she will miss her hometown, but is excited for her next adventure.

“I’m definitely going to miss the community. I’m going to miss knowing people. Seeing new faces is always really scary and meeting new people is often intimidating,” she said.

“I’m super excited. I’ve lived in Tofino my entire life so I’ve never lived in a city type format. I’m definitely excited. It’s intimidating, but I’m excited…Bye guys.”

Jaida Neilson, 18, moved to the West Coast from Lac La Hache in Grade 5 and enjoyed growing up on the ocean.

“I liked the small vibe. You’re not scared when you’re walking around, you feel safe,” she said. “It’s so small, so you kind of have a relationship with everyone and you know everyone.”

She said her last year was emotional as she prepared to say goodbye to her high school and hometown.

“I don’t like change very much and this is a nice small community and you form a lot of bonds with a lot of people,” she said, adding she valued her relationship with her teachers.

“They’re honest and they’ll tell it to you straight up but in a way that doesn’t hurt you, in a way that helps you grow from it.”

Neilson is heading to BCIT in Vancouver where she will study computer science.

“I’ve always liked really technical, logical thinking. I really like maths and sciences and technology as well and you can put them all together and make a career out of that,” she said, adding she’s eyeing a career in cybersecurity.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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