A pair of members of Cowichan Tribes made history at the end of the 2019-20 school year as the first First Nations students to receive two of Duncan Christian School’s biggest honours.
Kristine Williams was named the valedictorian for the Class of 2020, while Marianna Sillseemult received the Principal’s Award.
Williams was proud to be the school’s first-ever indigenous valedictorian.
“It’s a great honour because I’m the first of hopefully many,” she said. “I can prove other people can do it too.”
Williams attained high grades, and was also involved in lots of extracurricular activities; she played nearly every sport offered at DCS and was involved in the major drama production each of the last three years. She would have been the female lead in this year’s big show, A Fine Line, if it hadn’t been cancelled due to COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic also played a role in Williams’s valedictory address, as she recalled spending a good chunk of the school year at home under quarantine. She also thanked the teachers and parents from the school, with a special shoutout to principal Jeremy Tinsley, who relocated to Vancouver Christian School following the school year.
Williams, who grew up going to Cowichan Tribes cultural events, is enrolled at Vancouver Island University this fall, with the long-term goal of becoming a police officer, where she hopes to be a role model for other First Nations youth.
“I feel like being First Nations, I will be put on another tribe’s land,” she said.
Sillseemult wasn’t expecting to win any awards from the school, and didn’t even know the Principal’s Award existed, so the whole thing came as a surprise.
Also known as the Micah Award, it recalls Micah 6:8 (“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”). It is awarded for emulating Jesus, Sillseemult explained — sharing the word of God, loving others and serving others, even through the smallest of good deeds.
Sillseemult said she tried to be a positive role model for others, especially younger First Nations students, but didn’t expect a lot of attention for it.
“I just want to be a good example for younger youth and inspire them to keep going,” she said.
With six siblings, including one older brother, four younger sisters and one younger brother, Sillseemult took a leadership role at home as well as at school.
A student at DCS since Grade 6, she will look back on her time at the school fondly.
“I enjoyed making friends, and the Mexico trip was a lot of fun,” she recalled.
Her Cowichan Tribes heritage is very valuable to Sillseemult.
“It’s our culture,” she said. “It’s important for us to keep finding who we are. Our ancestors were a really strong people, and we are here to this day.”
Sillseemult is hoping to start work on a Bachelor of Education at Trinity Western University this fall, with the goal of becoming an elementary teacher. Could that lead her full circle back to Duncan Christian?
“I’d think about it,” she said.