Be happy for me my friends, for at 71 years of age, I can at long last, declare with great pride and humility that I have graduated from high school. Some good people at Hillcrest High School (Ottawa, ON), honouring the true purpose of ‘Reconciliation’, took it upon themselves to make this extraordinary milestone occur in my life. Geordie Walker, Principal at Hillcrest and one of his teachers, Marilyn McMillan (her students Shom, Akaash, Hajara, Gracie, Dalaa also contributed), carefully reviewed highlights of my life, attached credits where necessary, until the 30 credits required to graduate high school were in order. And this is why I have been floating amongst cirrus clouds since being told the good news!
Examples from my past work Geordie and Marilyn looked at, are that by age 22, I could brick a house all the way around on my own. The math skills needed to do so are pretty intense! I have proven my management and organizing skills by bringing a program I called the ‘Harmony Circle’ to inmates at Millhaven Maximum Security Prison (where I worked for 3 years). The Harmony Circle was a life-saving success, tension decreased on the Range and lives were forever changed for the better because of it. I have done mediation work, not by way of the ‘book’ but by the old ‘common sense’ way of the grassroots First Peoples as it was done before colonization of our territories occurred. I have created logos for committees which stand to prove a natural talent I have in the arts. I have facilitated many Restorative Practices Circles and delivered many workshops related to this critical area of the justice system. I have stood by many a death bed, reassuring and inspiring a dying human being with a troubled mind. None of the people I counselled left this world in fear of the afterlife! I am a special advisor to Bishop Shane Parker of the Anglican Church and for Beth Bretzlaff, the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral. I am at this time, the English Poet Laureate for the City of Ottawa. Because of these facts my friends at Hillcrest High School and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board saw that I qualified to receive the 30 credits needed to graduate high school.
I have up until today, stated many times that I did not complete the 8th Grade. School days ended for me a long time ago when I and four white students were caught smoking an Export A cigarette on the school grounds at the beginning of the school year. All of us were guilty, but only I was kicked out of school for it. “Dumont you’re out, the rest of you go back to your classrooms,” declared the male teacher who caught us. It wasn’t fair and I protested! Push came to shove and I was told to ‘never come back’ to St. Mary’s in Quyon, Québec. I wanted to finish high school. It was a goal I set for myself in my early childhood. The thought of not doing so, frightened me!
A Catholic nun was the principal at the school at the time. I went to the convent that evening and ‘with hat in hand’ as the old saying goes, to speak with the nun, a towering woman. I pleaded with her, I literally begged her to allow me to return to school. I recall very vividly now as I recount the memory, the cruelty in her eyes and the satisfaction in her voice when she said, “You were told to never come back to St. Mary’s and you never will.” I was crushed!
I never did return to the school but yet I stand before you today a proud high school graduate. It feels so good! Kichi migwech Geordie and Marilyn. Kichi migwech to the Ottawa-Carleton School Board, I hope you are aware what this milestone means to me. I am also so very pleased to say that my siblings, my daughters and grandchildren were all present for this life-altering event in my life. I am a man in the winter of my time. It seems so strange to me that in my winter of life I feel I am more at peace now than I have ever been before. A high school diploma? It works wonders!
Let me say this to all students (especially Indigenous students) who struggle to put in a day in the classroom: Take it from me, you will regret it later in life if you don’t do all in your power to complete your schooling. Pay attention to the teacher! Study hard! Do homework! Read poetry! Write poetry! Build a trust with someone of authority at the school. I will pray for your success!
I want to express my gratitude also to my granddaughter Kyrstin who delivered an amazingly powerful speech in my honour. Kyrstin is for sure making her mark as an activist and advocate. I am so proud of her.
Keep the Circle Strong,
South Wind (Albert Dumont)