UNB's first Indigenous valedictorian calls on people to 'address social inequities'
FREDERICTON -- The University of New Brunswick held their graduation ceremonies over the weekend and celebrated an historic first: Peyton Juhnke was the first Indigenous valedictorian for the university.
Juhnke, who says she was excited to blaze the trail for future Indigenous students, spoke to her fellow graduates via a broadcasted ceremony.
"It is no secret that the last year and a half of our degrees was not easy," Juhnke said.
She shared an important message during her valedictory speech.
"During this time we have seen profound change happen as people took to the streets to stand with those facing racism and discrimination," Juhnke said.
She was excited to learn that she broke a barrier for Indigenous peoples at the university, and expressed her gratitude for her ancestors who made it possible.
"To me it meant that Indigenous voices have been silenced for too long and I hope that it means that more indigenous students are able to take on these roles moving forward," Juhnke said.
To commemorate the milestone for the university, Amanda Myran, the assistant vice-president of Indigenous engagement even sewed the moccasins Juhnke wore.
"Years of oppression ... was an attempt to assimilate people in Canadian society, but it didn't work and you see an Indigenous student standing there powerful and empowered in her regalia and really carrying on the legacy of her ancestors," says Myran, whose title in Wolastoqey is Piluwitahasuwin, which means "one who promotes change in a good way toward truth."
For Juhnke, who graduated with a degree in philosophy, her address was a chance to speak about social injustices.
"I'm hoping that it creates impact long-term," Juhnke said. "I think my speech was more geared toward non-Indigenous, non-Black, non-people-of-colour, and how they can take up this work of addressing social inequities in their own lives."
Juhnke is planning to begin a master's in the fall, and hopes to pursue her PhD.