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Never too late to graduate

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Aklavik (July 12/04) - When Alex Illasiak strode to the stage at Moose Kerr high school last month, he had something on the other graduates: about five decades of life experience.

The Aklavik elder finally got the chance to don a cap and gown at the school's graduation ceremony, June 18, fifty years to the day after he completed high school.

"It was a really nice feeling," said the soft-spoken Illasiak. "I had been waiting a long time after all."

Illasiak spent his formative years in Sault St. Marie, Ont. with three other students from his home town because, he explained, there were no high schools in the NWT.

"If you wanted to continue with your education, it meant you had to leave home," he said.

Illasiak finished his course work in the spring of 1954 and his teachers allowed him to graduate without taking the end-of-year exams.

"At the time, I was happy to get out of school," he said. "Like a typical student, I was short on cash and wanted to find a job."

Illasiak soon got work at a power station about 150km outside of Sault St. Marie, which ruled out returning to school for his graduation ceremony.

He went on to what is now the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology before embarking on a career as a radio operator.

Illasiak only mentioned he never had the chance to attend his graduation ceremony to a teacher at Moose Kerr earlier this year.

"That's pretty much where it began," said Velma Illasiak, Alex's daughter and principal of Moose Kerr.

"We wanted to make sure that he had the chance to experience a graduation ceremony."

As luck would have it, the school also received an extra graduation gown -- a gown that fit Alex perfectly.

"Every thing just came together," said Velma, who also thanked the school's other five graduating students for including her father in the ceremony.

Clad in a robe and cap, Alex Illasiak was presented with a diploma from Moose Kerr, while he awaits the delivery of one from his alma matter in Sault St. Marie.

"I had wondered what it would be like to be on the stage," Illasiak said after the ceremony. "And it felt great."

Velma Illasiak said her father's graduation served as a reminder to the school's other graduates that learning never ends.

"It's a nice sentiment. Education is a life long process."