It’s been a tough year for Mount Sentinel.
The close-knit South Slocan high school was forced to postpone its graduation ceremony in June when one of the students threatened to harm his fellow teachers and students.
The RCMP took the 18-year-old student, Denver Skey, into custody but chose not to share news of the arrest until they learned if he was acting alone. In the meantime students were evacuated and encouraged to stay at home and not to congregate in one place together.
Skey was charged with three counts of uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm.
Co-valedictorians Kyle Chernenkoff and Raya Mikkelson ultimately delivered their grad speech during an invite-only celebration attended by the Star the next week, and Superintendent Jeff Jones said the rescheduled ceremony was crucial to the healing process.
“Sometimes relying on a traditional ceremony to bring a community together after a traumatic event is very necessary to move forward, and in this case it was the graduation that bought us together,” he said.
But making it through the week was no small feat, according to district psychologist Todd Kettner.
“It was a busy five or six days leading up to grad for all of us, but you dig in and you do what you need to do. You run on adrenaline. Beyond the safety thing the very second priority for us was to try and find a way to bring positive closure to the situation.”
That was followed by an announcement, made in early July, that the class was raising funds for mental health.
“As a grad class we have decided to make a donation towards mental health. Mount Sentinel school along with many other organizations have decided to match our donation,” Mikkelson told the Star.
“Mental health is extremely important. We want our community to realize that our situation has not made us weak, but it has made us strong. Our grad class is like a family and our little family will heal from this together.”
Kettner found out about the grad’s announcement during a teleconference meeting with the threat assessment team last week. Police officers, national experts and district staff were all on the call when Principal Glen Campbell informed them of the students’ plans.
“There was this pregnant silence after they told us this is what the grads have decided, and then one of the national experts on the call said ‘that’s the most amazing thing in my whole career I’ve ever heard from a situation like this’ and indeed it was.”
Kettner said he felt “verklempt.”
“Of all the reactions you could choose and all the ways a collective group of youth could deal with having their grad plans cancelled … they could have been angry, but instead they found compassion and empathy,” he said.
Months later L.V. Rogers donated funds for the same purpose.
“I had multiple friends who were pretty bummed out about not being able to celebrate their grad the way they normally do,” said Hannah Jordahl.
“We were torn that they didn’t get to experience their grad like we did.”
LVR donated $3,000 to the fund.
“We thought it was important to donate as well, because there’s a lot of stigma around mental health and wellness, and we need to raise awareness about it,” said Jordahl.
Skey initially pled not guilty but changed his plea to guilty later in the year. He will be sentenced early in the new year.