Drummers at the U of S spring convocation. Photo courtesy @usask, Twitter.

There was an impressive Indigenous presence at the week-long University of Saskatchewan’s spring convocation ceremonies, which wrapped up on Thursday.

With 383 Indigenous students taking part in spring convocation – nearly 11 per cent of the total – it was the largest-ever Indigenous graduating class the university has had, according to U of S President Peter Stoicheff.

Drum beats have been welcoming the graduates to Treaty 6 territory to mark one of the biggest accomplishments of their adult lives: receiving their degree before they step into the world as teachers, engineers, researchers, artists, and professionals in a variety of fields.

Earlier this week, actor Kim Coates took the stage in Saskatoon to receive his honorary degree and the following day, education advocate Earl Cook followed in his footsteps.

Although Cook had a few less selfie requests than the Sons of Anarchy actor, he had a strong message for the education graduates.

Cook is originally from Cumberland House and has become an authority in northern and Indigenous education, most notably for his work with the Northern Teacher’s Education Program (NORTEP).

“When I was with NORTEP we used to encourage students that we saw some leadership qualities in, encourage them to become vice-principals and principals, to further their education. And that encouragement I know makes a difference,” he told the Wednesday crowd at TCU Place.

He directly addressed the Wednesday graduates.

“I’ve had many teachers during my K-12 education, I’ve had many good teachers from Cumberland House, from La Ronge. And some of those became good friends, lifelong friends,” he said.

Cook did not sugar coat the reality that teaching is sometime a thankless job, but said the most important thing is to include all students – those with different abilities and backgrounds – in the classroom.

“And you might not think you’ve made a difference but you will have in those students’ lives, in your peers’ lives and in those you provide workshops too and so on. You will make a difference,” he said.