A virtual graduation to celebrate her degree, after nearly 10 years of work

‘This is a huge let down,’ says St̓aʔqʷaĺqs, who is graduating with her bachelor’s degree from UBCO.

This article is part of a series focused on Indigenous students from the Okanagan who are graduating in 2020. 

St̓aʔqʷaĺqs (Hailey Causton) is graduating from University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) with a Bachelors of Arts degree. 

The 27 year old Westbank First Nation member, has been working hard for nearly ten years to reach her post-secondary graduation, but due to COVID-19 celebrating this milestone has shifted.

Instead of walking the stage, St̓aʔqʷaĺqs participated in UBCO’s virtual graduation at her home with friend’s and family on June 17th.

“I was excited to have my boys watch me walk the stage, but maybe another time,” she says. “Not everything we plan out will necessarily work out, but being able to adapt and move forward is important.”

Given the unique circumstances facing the graduating classes of 2020, IndigiNews Okanagan is reporting a series on Indigenous students graduating this year. We want to get to know these students and hear their thoughts on what it’s like to graduate amid a global pandemic. 

A ten year journey 

“I prefer my sqílxʷ skʷist [Indigenous name],” says St̓aʔqʷaĺqs. 

She explains that St̓aʔqʷaĺqs means shimmery or glittery patchwork dress in Nsyilxcən, the Syilx language. Her name was given to her by Celia Eneas.

“I call her momma, she’s like a grandmother. We became connected through winter dance,” she says. 

St̓aʔqʷaĺqs’ favourite thing is being out on the the land gathering with her children teaching them how to connect and explore nature. 

St̓aʔqʷaĺqs dancing a prayer for the planting of the Truth and Reconciliation tree planting. Submitted by St̓aʔqʷaĺqs.

She describes herself as a determined person.

“I often find myself describing how I am a two-feet in sort of person. There’s no true reason to half your efforts in anything,” she says. 

St̓aʔqʷaĺqs and I communicated back and forth via email. We had a conversation about how she has been grappling with learning from home, how she feels about graduating and what her plans are for the fall. I’ve edited our conversation for length and clarity.

Athena: How are you doing, personally?

St̓aʔqʷaĺqs: Finishing my courses online, while working online and having my two toddlers home was definitely not the ideal working conditions but got it done. Personally, I was hoping for celebration and self care after graduation. I also was hoping to walk the stage and take pictures with my children so that they can have those photos to strive for. 

A: How does schooling look to you currently?

S: Schooling is currently completed. 

A: What did graduation look like before covid-19? Now what does it look like ? 

S: I am currently 7-months pregnant with my third, and had planned on walking the stage with my two toddlers watching. This is a huge let down. As well as trying to get a hold of a graduation cap to bead/quill has been quite challenging. 

A: How are you feeling about 2020 graduation changing?

S: I understand it is for safety reasons, but after 10 years towards a degree, I was certainly wishing for bam! 2020 grad. 

A: Did you do anything yourself to celebrate grad?

S: We haven’t done much yet, still waiting and keeping our distance. I want to do a spa weekend with my buddy who is wrapping up her masters. 

A: How have you been supported?

S: Without the support of my friends and family I could have never completed this degree. It’s such a rapidly changing time in people’s lives. 

A: What are your plans after grad?

S: I plan on the arrival of my third, and lapping up as much time as I can with my babies while they are babies. 

A: What is keeping you positive?, what do you need?

S: Exercising and having the tools and support systems to release ugly thoughts. I wish there were more tools readily available to other students during general times and not just these circumstances. 

A: Now lastly, what’s your message for other people graduating in the class of 2020?

S: 2020 was not only an epic year, it was pandemic epic… not funny now, most likely never. However our generation has seen many firsts come from this experience.


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