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Supreme advice for grads: Justice Anne McKeig delivers address at Red Lake commencement ceremony

Anne McKeig, right, Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court, shows gratitude after she was given a gift from Tracy Olson, Red Lake High School principal, at the school’s commencement ceremony on Saturday. McKeig, the first American Indian appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, was the guest speaker. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 6
The 2018 Royalty dances into the Red Lake High School graduation ceremony on Saturday at the Red Lake Secondary Complex. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 6
Red Lake Honor Student Alysha Beaulieu tears up as she delivers her commencement address at the Red Lake High School Graduation on Saturday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 6
Quinten Chaboyea reads Kiersten Iceman’s commencement address at the Red Lake High School Graduation on Saturday. Iceman lost her voice before the ceremony. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 6
Destiny Jourdain’s graduation cap features beadwork as she waits to receive her diploma at Red Lake High School’s graduation on Saturday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)5 / 6
Anne McKeig, Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court, speaks to the 2018 graduating class from Red Lake High School during their commencement ceremony on Saturday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 6 / 6

RED LAKE—The rain couldn't dampen the spirits of the 36 graduates from Red Lake High School on Saturday.

And their spirits also were raised up by a member of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Justice Anne McKeig, the first Native American woman in the country named to a state Supreme Court, was Saturday's commencement speaker in Red Lake.

"There's nothing like coming home; our home, Northern Minnesota," McKeig said, proudly overlooking the graduating class.

McKeig was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Gov. Mark Dayton on Sept. 1, 2016. She explained to the students that being the first Native American woman to become a member of the state's highest court was not always easy.

"I felt like I didn't belong," she explained to the students. "Which is the reason I had to stay."

She told the crowd she went from wanting to be a dentist until she reached the ninth grade and realized how much science was involved. She promptly switched her interests to the law, she said. Her advice to the students was to, "celebrate this moment. Remember this moment."

She asked the crowd of graduating students, "Who knows what they want to do after high school?" Three students raised their hands, and McKieg then asked, "Who is scared because they don't know what they want to do?" This received a larger response from the graduates as several raised their hands.

"All I can say is. . . dream."

McKieg, who is from the town of Federal Dam, near Leech Lake, explained to the students that it's OK not to know what they want to be yet, but that anything is possible.

"If you want to be a singer, an artist, a contractor; be the best you can be at it," she encouraged. "When you dream big, you are representing all of us."

Saturday's commencement ceremony started with the banging of a drum and the singing of the Flag Song by Keveon Kingbird/Battle River, as the graduates dressed in red and white made their way across the gymnasium floor, following the Red Lake VFW Post presenting the colors.

"This is not an individual or school event," said Principal Tracy Olson as she started off the speeches for the event. "This is a community event, a family event."

Honors students Kiersten Iceman and Alysha Beaulieu were the next to speak. Unfortunately for Iceman, she'd recently lost her voice and could not present her own speech, so she requested fellow graduating class member Quinten W. Chaboyea to read her speech for her.

"How do you explain four years of your life in three minutes?" Chaboyea said as he read Iceman's speech off of notes she had prepared. Despite having gone through four years of high school, learning more about themselves along the way, "this is where we really grow up," Iceman wrote.

Beaulieu had trouble keeping her voice steady as she stood in front of her peers for the last time. "One thing I'll never let go of are the memories," she said. "Thank you, class of 2018, for making me who I am today."

As a thank you from the school, Olson presented McKieg with a blanket and an embrace, and the gymnasium erupted with clapping and cheering.

After McKeig's address, it was time for the students to receive their diplomas. Ushers guided the students up to the stage where their names were read off and they received their individual praise. They climbed the stairs as students and walked across the stage with diplomas in their hands, and their tassels moved from right to left as high school graduates.

The ceremony ended with the Honor Song by Keveon Kingbird/Battle River, following their school's motto: "Our lives are before us, our past is behind us, our memories are forever within us."

Cook is a summer reporting intern for the Pioneer.

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