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Niemi, Rashid named UNBC valedictorians

UNBC has named its valedictorians for its 2017 convocation ceremonies on May 26.
Faran Rashid and Shelly Niemi, seen in this undated handout photo, will be the 2017 valedictorians at the University of Northern British Columbia.

UNBC has named its valedictorians for its 2017 convocation ceremonies on May 26.

Shelly Niemi and Faran Rashid have been chosen to represent their fellow students as they prepare their farewell speeches in celebration of the completion of their educational journey at UNBC.

Niemi is graduating with her master's degree in education in multidisciplinary leadership.

"I feel I have a great amount of responsibility on behalf of my graduating class. But I am extremely humbled and excited," Niemi said.

She also earned her Bachelor of Arts in First Nations studies in 2012 at UNBC.

Niemi, who is of Metis and Cree ancestry, grew up in Prince George and she is the first person in her family to earn a master's degree.

"The level of support UNBC provides students is first-class," Niemi said.

"Not only do you have supportive instructors and support staff, you have the whole university community walking beside you and believing in you. The authentic level of care and support you are provided as a student gives you this rich sense of belonging and deeper belief in yourself that you are capable of becoming successful in whatever you decide to do."

During her time at UNBC, Niemi also worked as the district administrator for aboriginal education for School District 57.

"I was raised by my great aunt. I never had that deep connection to my cultural identity. Those pieces were disconnected for me when I was a youth. It wasn't until I entered an alternate educational program that allowed me to recognize who I was as an indigenous youth, that's when things changed," Niemi said.

"Working at the school district allowed me to bring in my own experiences. They believed in me."

Niemi plans to continue researching indigenous education, having enrolled at the University of Western Ontario, where she will pursue a PhD in school leadership in international contexts.

"During my studies, I will be looking at international indigenous support systems and cross comparing them to see how things are done in Canada and help transfer indigenous learning."

Faran Rashid is graduating with his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry as an honors student.

He is thrilled to represent his fellow students.

"Being at UNBC has been a huge part of my life, I am still so overwhelmed," Rashid said.

"It's an amazing feeling to be able to represent my fellow students."

Rashid owes much of his love of science to UNBC.

His greatest experience was conducting research with UNBC biochemistry professor Chow Lee on finding anticancer compounds from mushrooms.

Rashid earned the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada's Research Studentship because of his research in finding small molecules that could pass the blood barriers and be potentially useful in brain cancer research.

He was the first UNBC student ever to receive the scholarship.

"My passion for science was reignited," Rashid said.

But his passion for science also led to a passion for people having spent hundreds of hours volunteering in the community with organizations such as the Northern BC Crisis Centre, the Canadian Cancer Society's Northern Region Office and the University Hospital of Northern BC and Canadian Blood Services.

"Volunteering has opened my eyes," he said. "And I treasure the sense of community that I have been a part of at UNBC. I grew up in big cities. I was met with open arms and everyone genuinely cares about everyone here."

Niemi will give her valedictorian address at UNBC'S College of the Arts, Social and Health Sciences ceremony at 9:30 a.m. on May 26. Rashid will speak at the College of Science and Management ceremony at 2:30 p.m. that same day.