The Island K’ulut’a. (BC Ferries photo)

The Island K’ulut’a. (BC Ferries photo)

BC Ferries wishes North Island high school students a great graduation day

A dozen members of NISS class of ’22 will be arriving by ferry

Some Grade 12 students roll up to their graduation ceremonies or proms in a limousine or party bus.

But a dozen members of the North Island Secondary School (NISS) Class of ’22 will be arriving in a much more expensive vehicle.

The 12 are from Sointula and Alert Bay, and when they and their families travel to receive their diplomas on June 11, they’ll sail on the Island K’ulut’a, the ferry that traverses the Port McNeill-Sointula-Alert Bay route.

It’s also the route they have taken their entire time at NISS.

And for the commitment it takes to get up early and arrive home late five days a week in order to go to high school, they have the admiration of James Glendale.

A deckhand for BC Ferries who has worked the route for the last 32 years, he’s also an NISS grad— Class of ’89 — who rode the ferry from Alert Bay as a teen. He has gotten to know his youngest regulars from tiny Malcolm Island (where Sointula is located) and Cormorant Island (Alert Bay). If anyone can sympathize with the challenges those students face, it’s him.

“They put in some long days,” says Glendale.

“It’s always a joy seeing them there,” he adds, noting, “We get to know the kids, as well as their parents, and the kids get to know us.”

That’s why he’s pleased his employer is once again making a sailing change for their special day. On June 11, the final Saturday evening sailing of from Port McNeill, where the school is located, will leave an hour later than usual to allow the grads and their families, and even some teachers, to get home after a day of celebration.

BC Ferries has delayed graduation-day sailings on his route for years, says Glendale, for whom this is an annual full-circle moment as well as a satisfying way to mark a milestone after seeing the kids often daily during their high school journey.

“You get to see them when they first come on as Grade 8s — they look scared as heck, not knowing what they’re getting into. And each year, they seem to mature a bit more.”

Ben Donoghue also sees those changes. He’s the vice-principal at NISS, and he says he’s impressed with the dedication of students who must take the ferry daily to get to school. “It’s just remarkable seeing these kids who are here every single day and you just know how much they’re putting in both before and after school just to get here,” he says.

The total student population of NISS is 286 this year, with 18 coming from Sointula and 67 from Alert Bay, he says, and 12 out of a grad class of 50 from those communities. Donoghue says the Class of ’22 is a high-achieving bunch, with many already destined for universities and apprenticeships.

And he’ll be happy to see them all receive their diplomas, then celebrate with a dinner and party at Telegraph Cove before taking that late ferry home. It will be the first fully in-person NISS grad since 2019 after the pandemic forced the school to livestream grads-only ceremonies the last two years.

Donoghue is also appreciative that BC Ferries is again changing its schedule for the kids. “We’re just really grateful,” he says. “It just shows that they’re committed to the community.”

And when those glowing grads take their final ferry run as high schoolers, they’ll see a familiar face: Glendale will be on the night shift for their trip home.

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