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Belmont valedictorian embraces inclusive culture

Indigenous valedictorians part of Sooke School District since 2014
Jeannie Chipps is the Indigenous Valedictorian or the graduating class of 2021 at Belmont Secondary School. (Photo contributed by Jeannie Chipps)

Whatever path Jeannie Chipps forges in the future, it will share a close connection to her heritage and culture.

The resident of Beecher Bay and member of the Scia’new First Nation has been selected as Belmont Secondary School’s Indigenous valedictorian for the graduating class of 2021.

“I was really excited,” Chipps said regarding her selection. “I’ve been working on my school work and didn’t see it coming.”

Chipps said she felt like she had many opportunities at Belmont to explore and learn about her culture.

“I also felt that Belmont gave many opportunities to Indigenous students to help us become successful in our classes, as well as preparing us for the future,” she said.

Chipps, 17, was recently accepted to the University of Victoria, where she will study in the faculty of humanities.

“I want to be a secondary school history teacher, so I’ll be working on getting the requirements I need to achieve that goal,” she said. “UVic provides a lot of options in studying First Nations, and I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can. My parents (Russ and Laurie Chipps) have really helped me a lot and are very supportive. My teacher, Mr. Feser, was a great help in developing my love for English.”

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Although she excelled in core subjects such as English and history throughout her years in high school, Chipps believes taking advanced placement art in her final year helped broaden her horizons. “It was challenging, definitely a change from regular art classes, but it helped me gain an appreciation for different elements of art. Art is a real passion. I like painting and sketching.”

Chipps, an enthusiastic member of Belmont’s cheerleading team, admitted she was disappointed that she couldn’t participate this year because of COVID-19.

“I really enjoyed cheerleading at football and basketball games but that just wasn’t possible this year,” she said. Chipps expressed gratitude to her coach, Rachael Sandberg, for the passion she helped instill in the team.“It’s a really fun activity outside of school, and a great way to make new friends and share a real connection as a team.”

Fortunately, she was able to fill part of the void by baking, something that’s been a hobby throughout most of her life.

“I like how everything comes together,” she explained. “And it’s great when you’re stressed or just need something to do.”

The Sooke School District has selected an Indigenous valedictorian for Belmont and Royal Bay secondary schools, as well as Edward Milne Community School and Westshore Centre for Learning since 2014. A recognition committee consisting of staff from the aboriginal department approach students to share their educational story, milestones, hurdles, and supports.

The students volunteer to create a speech with guidelines set by the committee, with the aim of passing along their insights and journeys to school officials and future graduates.


About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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