I began my training at residential faculty. At 58, I’ve lastly graduated

I began my training at residential faculty. At 58, I’ve lastly graduated

Now or By no means13:44I began my training at residential faculty. At 58, I’ve lastly

Now or By no means13:44I began my training at residential faculty. At 58, I’ve lastly graduated

Vivian Ketchum was 5 years previous when she was taken to residential faculty. She displays on what it means to lastly end highschool.

This First Individual article is written by Vivian Ketchum who’s Anishinaabe group activist residing in Winnipeg. For extra details about CBC’s First Individual tales, please see the FAQ.

I’m surrounded by varied mementoes as I sit in my lounge: reward playing cards, presents from mates, my late son’s commencement cap. Taking a look at them brings residence the truth of my commencement: At 58, I lastly have my diploma. I’m a highschool graduate! Possibly if I say the phrases sufficient occasions, it is going to begin to really feel actual. 

This Crimson Street (a life journey in Indigenous group) —  to commencement has been an extended one. 

My first classroom was in a bit of blue constructing at Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential Faculty in Kenora, Ont. I used to be 5 years previous after I was taken away from my loving household.

I keep in mind the massive pink pencils with blue-lined paper on the rows of tiny desks within the classroom. After breakfast, the youthful college students walked over to the blue constructing. I favored the youthful trainer. She smiled loads and was not scary like the home mom. Inside that classroom, I felt protected from the older children and the home mom.

Children play in a field in front of a red-brick building.
Ketchum attended Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential faculty till the varsity was closed in 1976. (CBC)

After the residential faculty closed in 1976, I used to be positioned in lots of foster properties. One foster mom purchased me an unsightly pink observe go well with for gymnasium in highschool utilizing a toddler and household service clothes voucher. Different children already made enjoyable of me as a result of I used to be skinny teenager with thick glasses and unhealthy tooth. The pink observe go well with was simply extra ammunition for them to make use of in opposition to me. I solely attended one gymnasium class earlier than I dropped out of that class.

Then, after I was 16, I used to be shipped to southern Ontario to a bunch residence. I used to be in a small city that solely had two native children, and I used to be one in every of them. My lecturers observed that I hardly ever did any homework, however my grades have been good. Considered one of them determined to have me examined.

I used to be struggling to slot in at an virtually all-white faculty– Vivian Ketchum

They found that I wasn’t being challenged sufficient and put me in a particular class. That will have labored out if I used to be prepared to be challenged. However I used to be struggling to slot in at an virtually all-white faculty. 

I started to skip lessons and fall behind in my grades. I fell in with a foul crowd. I started to secretly drink, which did not assist with my faculty work. I used to be 18 and in Grade 9 after I aged out of care. I used to be placed on a aircraft to return residence to Kenora to attend my father’s funeral. Relieved to be going again residence with my household regardless that I did not end highschool and was returning for a funeral.

I did not even attempt to proceed my training after that as I used to be too busy making an attempt to outlive. I had my son in my early 20s, determined to attempt to sober up and entered rehab in a ladies’s shelter. I realized life expertise and settled in a brand new place. 

Then I attempted going again to highschool, however failed once more as a result of calls for of being a single mom. We lived on social help and I struggled to supply for my son. So I put my desires of faculty on maintain till my son bought older.

My son’s wants got here first, and I did what I may to verify Tyler graduated and had a greater life that I ever did. My son was nicely favored by his mates and locally. Our residence was the place for his mates to assemble and luxuriate in a home-cooked meal. Tyler had plans to grow to be a police officer and to additional his training.

A man puts his arm around a woman.
Ketchum, left, together with her son Tyler in 2010, earlier than he died from a mind tumour. (Submitted by Vivian Ketchum)

In 2010, Tyler was recognized with a mind tumour and died when he was 24. I put my dream of ending highschool on maintain after my son handed away. I wanted time to grieve and heal from my loss. 

Nearly a decade had handed till I felt prepared to return to highschool. In 2021, I had utilized for an incredible job that paid nicely. I had every thing they wished on the job utility till I used to be requested to supply a highschool transcript. I did not have one and the job interview ended on that be aware.

Getting denied that job was discouraging, but it surely lit a fireplace inside me. I discovered the Winnipeg Grownup Training Centre close to my residence. I walked in simply to ask some questions, however the steering counsellor inspired me to enroll and fill out kinds proper there after which. My late son’s phrases echoed in my thoughts: “You have to stick with it.”‘ These have been the phrases he shared with me when he was terminally in poor health with the mind tumour.

A portrait of a smiling woman in graduation robes. She holds a bouquet of flowers and her late son moccasins.
Ketchum holds her son’s child moccasins in her commencement pictures. (Submitted by Vivian Ketchum)

I enrolled as a mature scholar and was assessed at a Grade 11 in English and math. Most college students attended faculty remotely with the pandemic, so class sizes have been small and entry to the trainer was nice. I discovered that my headset cancelled out distractions and the noise in my head. I used to be in a position to focus higher. If I bought annoyed with distant studying, I may at all times return to it later. I used to be studying at my very own tempo.

Once I completed my final faculty project, I felt a way of unhappiness that this stage of my life was carried out. It was combined with aid that I set out a purpose for myself and truly accomplished it. After which my mates threw me a commencement celebration with a shock visitor, which I didn’t anticipate in any respect to occur.

WATCH | Musician Ernest Monias surprises Vivian Ketchum at her commencement celebration:

Watch Ernest Monias shock graduate Vivian Ketchum

Vivian Ketchum is a residential faculty survivor who has overcome challenges to now lastly graduate highschool. Pals gathered to have fun her with a shock efficiency from the ‘King of the North’, Ernest Monias.

From a bit of blue classroom at a residential faculty in northern Ontario to a stone-faced constructing in Winnipeg, my academic journey has been full of challenges. However I’ve reached my dream of getting that top faculty diploma 40 years later. That piece of paper goes to open doorways for me now and sooner or later. I’ve found greater than commencement items in graduating; there’s a new degree of respect from the group.

And I’ve additionally fulfilled my son’s want: I’ve carried on and can proceed to hold on.


Vivian Ketchum is an Anishinaabe group activist, a author, a residential faculty survivor and as of June 30, a highschool graduate.

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