Valedictorian Focuses on Success for All

April 24, 2022
James Besa is one of two Selkirk College valedictorians representing the Class of 2022 at the convocation ceremony on the Castlegar Campus

Selkirk Convocation 2022 takes place on the Castlegar Campus on April 26. One of two Class of 2022 valedictorians, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program student James Besa personifies this year’s graduating class with his energy, warm heart and exciting road ahead.

On the cusp of an promising career in health care, Selkirk College valedictorian James Besa is encouraging his peers in the Class of 2022 to embrace the spirit of a traditional Filipino street dance.

A graduate of the four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program, Besa is an outstanding student who is a leader both regionally and nationally. As he celebrates a massive educational milestone with the Selkirk College community, Besa’s message is that the learning never stops.

“This may be the end of formal education for most of us, but we must always remember that learning is a lifetime process… stay curious,” says the 23-year-old. “Be kind to yourself, others and Mother Nature. Don’t be afraid to fail at some point along the way because failing is also part of growing. I recommend that people dance Ati-atihan when trying to learn about a certain knowledge, skill or attitude. Ati-atihan is a traditional street dance of Filipinos in the Philippines. It involves two basic moves—one step backward and two steps forward. If you make a mistake while learning, take a step back to look back and review the ideas, perspectives and concepts you’ve missed to become successful. Then, take one step forward to correct your mistake.”

Inherently kind and joyously energetic, Besa’s journey to success at post-secondary is rooted in the small Philippines town of Carmen, San Augustin, Romblon.

Determination on the Road to a Career

Growing up in a rural island community that relies upon products provided by the farmlands and the sea, Besa was surrounded by the Romblomanon culture and tradition. Aware of diverse ideologies and social injustices present in his surroundings from a young age, the foundation of a career helping others was cemented.

Besa’s family suffered the effects of colonialism, government corruption and socioeconomic instability. His mother paved the way for a new direction by migrating to Canada, and in 2016 Besa arrived to the West Kootenay when he was 17 to start a new life. As he worked jobs as a dishwasher and line cook, Besa started in the School of Academic Upgrading at Selkirk College so he could acquire the pre-requisites to enter the Nursing Program.

“Nursing is the art and science of caring for people from the womb to the tomb, so I get to know people from different walks of life in this ever-changing environment,” he says of his educational choice. “The people I meet daily tell me unique and remarkable stories about themselves, their point-of-view, and their environment. It makes me learn more about myself and my environment even deeper, which I love the most.”

While making his way through the rigours of a four-year program, Besa continued to work part-time as a healthcare assistant and employed student nurse at Mountain Lakes Seniors Community in Nelson during the most challenging days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, Besa became involved in the Canadian Nursing Students' Association where he currently sits as the People of Colour Caucus Chair. As part of his work with the national organization and his studies in the classroom, Besa was the project manager on the Diversity Embracement Project: An Anti-Racism Initiative. Aiming to understand the patterns and levels of racism that Canadian nursing program students have experienced or witnessed, in January 2022 he authored a 60-page report titled Racism in Nursing Schools: Canadian Undergraduate Registered Nursing, Practical Nursing, and Psychiatric Nursing Students’ Perspectives

“What stands out in my experience at Selkirk College is my learning on working collaboratively with local and national level organizations to achieve a common goal: to fight racism in nursing schools and healthcare settings through implementing scientific research and providing recommendations,” Besa says. “This experience gave me hope that our evolutionary process leads to a more inclusive society that aims to solve the troubles of life using evidence-informed practice.”

The Countdown to New Beginnings

Continuing to push himself for fresh knowledge and experience, Besa’s final practicum was at the Iskut Valley Health Services Centre located in a remote Indigenous community in Northern British Columbia. He spent five weeks as a nurse generalist in-training where he received experience in the emergency room, mental health and addiction, maternity, and with medical patients. He also worked in the laboratory, helped with a COVID-19 outbreak in the community and prepared a sexual health teaching session for Grade 4 students. 

“Working in an Indigenous community like Iskut was both a great honor and privilege, my learning experience was remarkable,” Besa says. “Iskut community members taught me a lot about respecting other people, fighting for your human rights, loving nature, trusting scientific evidence, resilience, kindness, and the importance of family and the societal values correlated with culture and tradition in living a healthy life. I will keep all the knowledge and experiences we shared together deep in my heart until the day I take my last breath.”

It was while in Iskut that Besa was informed he would be representing the Class of 2022 as valedictorian at the Selkirk College convocation ceremony at the Castlegar Campus on April 26.

“I was teary-eyed because of joy and said to myself: ‘Hey! You made it. You proved to the world that a person who has experienced poverty and bad governmental leadership could excel academically if only given a chance to do so. Now, the real work starts here. Spread kindness to the world and be a good role model.’”

After graduation, Besa plans on working in local health care facilities with the ultimate goal of becoming a team member at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Clearly a remarkable student, Besa’s parting advice to peers goes back to the traditional street dance so prominent in his culture.

“Always take another step forward to move along with a new learning, a new and better version of yourself, and become closer to reaching the goal or objective you’ve set for yourself,” says Besa, drawing parallels to the Ati-atihan dance. “It may not be easy for some, but totally worth it for your success and the success of humanity relies on it. The failure of one is the failure of all, and the success of one is the success of all as a unit… help each other out.”

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James Besa is one of two Selkirk College valedictorians representing the Class of 2022 at the convocation ceremony on the Castlegar Campus. A graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program—a partnership with the University of Victoria that enables students to take all four years of school in the West Kootenay—Besa and his peers from all programs will walk across the stage on April 26.

On his final practicum, Class of 2022 valedictorian James Besa spent five weeks in the isolated northern BC community of Iskut.

Class of 2022 valedictorian James Besa in the Nursing Program lab on the the Castlegar Campus where he was a leader amongst his peers.