Tyler Dvorak and Nathan Bullock

When in your life do you remember feeling the genuine excitement of freedom? Sure, as we look back on our childhood we are filled with a natural glow, remembering how freely we played and lived. But we were unaware at the time of what we possessed. For many of us, our first taste of acknowledged freedom was graduating from High School. I distinctly remember how excited I was to leave Fernie, to start a new adventure, to meet new people, to live on my own.

It’s been nearly twenty-two years since that day, and I was curious to see what has changed for this year’s graduates at Fernie Secondary School (FSS).

Linda Christenson, the principal at FSS organized for me to meet with Tyler Dvorak and Nathan (Nate) Bullock. I recognize them right away, two young men standing a bit warily at the main office. I try to break the ice by telling them Mrs. Christenson taught me Home Ec in Grade 8, it seems to do the trick. We sit down, and I thank them for taking time out of their busy schedules, remembering the work-load leading up to provincial exams. But quickly learn, they no longer exist. What?! My mind is blown. Things have changed.

“There is a big shift going into Grade 12. Previously, we focused on our grades. Now, our priorities are university applications, scholarships and graduation,” says Nate. “Up until Grade 12, we used to worry about getting our homework done and showing up on time, but this year has been more about figuring out what we want to do, where we want to go, etc,” Tyler adds.

With the support and guidance of the school counsellor, Tyler and Nate successfully applied to universities and have been accepted to the school and program of their choice. Tyler is headed to the University of Calgary’s engineering program, and Nate the University of BC in Vancouver to study Political Science. “I think I could get into politics,” he shares with us. Tyler and I agree we weren’t made for it, but applaud Nate on his interest.

And what about planning for grad festivities? “It’s been mostly done by the parents,” Tyler says. “Students are in charge of fundraising, making sure people know what’s going on, but parents organize it,” says Nate. After last year’s changes due to the arena closure, I ask if it’s impacted this year’s choices. The events are going back to the arena, but the schedule has changed. “The parents asked us what we wanted to do, and we decided that instead of the After Grad, we wanted to extend the prom,” Tyler tells me. What a great idea! This year, the commencements will still take place in the afternoon but the Grand March will take place before prom, and prom will extend until 2am. So much more time to enjoy that suit or dress purchased for the occasion.

While they seem excited about the celebrations, both Tyler and Nate are focused on the bigger change coming their way. “We’re most looking forward to going off to University. It’s kind of apprehensive excitement! New freedom, but also scary at the same time,” Nate tells me. “I’m going to try to transition as much as possible before, doing things on my own so it’s not so jarring.” Both Tyler and Nate have had jobs at the Movie Theatre and Mark’s Work Warehouse respectively, and plan to work through the summer and come home to work each year.

We chat about the other students in their class, with the expense of post-secondary education, what is everyone doing?

"Definitely some people are taking a year off, to travel. Some people just know they aren’t interested in school at this time,” Tyler says. “Others are choosing trades at the College of the Rockies because it’s more affordable.”

“University debt deters a lot of people,” adds Nate. “It almost preselects, as some people’s parents can’t afford the cost.”

While a lot has changed, this has not. Post-secondary education has so many forms, graduates all differ in their interests, backgrounds and financial support. The diversity of any class is so beautiful and important to our communities. And although these two, alongside many of the other students graduating from FSS, have a goal and destination, they agree that they are going into their first year away from home with an open mind. They feel grateful to have attended elementary and high school in Fernie, and while nervous about the ‘shift’ from High School to University, they are excited about the freedom. “To just get out there, meet new people, experience a different environment,” Nate says. And his excitement takes me right back, to that moment setting off across the province with the car packed, playlist ready, and stomach churning. Freedom.

1. When did you first arrive in the Fernie and what brought you here? T. I’ve been here forever. My Family has been here forever. N. I moved here coming into Grade 6, and it was for schooling. I was homeschooled, and it was a good choice as Fernie as a community has more to do.

2. Who did you first meet? T. Who I remember the most outside of the family would probably be my Grade 1 teacher. I just loved grade 1 because she was great. N. The first person of significance is my friend Kieran from the Academy. I met him through Taekwondo and we’re still really good friends.

3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? T. I thought it was great. N. Driving from Cranbrook to Elkford, Fernie always struck me like a warm vibe coming through.

4. What will keep you coming back? T. Probably the fact that all of my family is here and has been here for generations. It’s where everybody is and where I grew up. N. Childhood memories. I have done a lot of biking around here and snowboarding. And obviously to visit my parents.

5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory or pastime? T. All of the group sporting events and different sports I got to do with my friends. Getting to see them a couple of times a week and on the weekends. It was awesome. N. The soccer team, going to tournaments and having a really good time. It’s really fun, a collection of students from both the High School and Academy.

6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? T. Definitely spring and summer. We get so much snow, it gets tiring for a while. But in Summer, you can’t get enough sun. N. June and July before it gets all hazy. This week when it started warming up, everyone was happier.

7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? T. You always hear people say they love Fernie when you’re travelling – definitely a way to get to know people. There are always different people coming to our town, bringing different interests. I hope it stays that way. N. I would say Fernie has a reputation and idea to be this ski town and bike town that is definitely progressive and moving forward. I would like to see that held up, especially environmentally. To not backpedal with decisions, focus on what makes Fernie Fernie.

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? T. Get up and get a shower. Regardless of where I am. N. I always shower before bed. I’ve been doing that since Grade 1.

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. T. I guess that I like to work on vehicles. N. I love acting and public speaking. Which I think is not a super common thing, but also not really out of character for me.

10. Quote to live by: T. It’s all good. N. Life goes on. If you mess up, it’s not the end of the world.