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Margaret (Molly) Boyce, right, poses for photographs with fellow valedictorian Joseph Meeseetawageesic after speaking to graduates of the Aboriginal Skills Advancement Program. (Heather Kitching/CBC) An aspiring nurse who spent more than 15 years living on the streets of Thunder Bay, Ont., was valedictorian Thursday at the graduation ceremony for the Aboriginal Skills Advancement Program.

Margaret (Molly) Boyce, 49, called the experience of walking across the stage to get her high school diploma "amazing."

"This … was a longtime goal for me from the time I was just a young girl," Boyce told CBC. "But you know how life goes. I had children at a very young age, and then I was in the dark days for so many years."

Boyce credits the staff of Shelter House’s Kwae Kii Win Managed Alcohol Program with taking care of her and showing her that she mattered.

"From there, from the love and the care that they showed me, I started to grow," she said.

Boyce is now working to get the credits needed to attend nursing school in the fall.

Her goal, she said, is to work as a nurse in her home community of Eabametoong, 350 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, inspired by the nurses who helped her care for her mother when she was young.

Her message to others who are struggling with homelessness and addictions: "Open your heart to people that are extending their hand to you.… You’re worth it. There’s hope."

The graduation ceremony, held on International Women’s Day, showcased the nearly equal balance of men and women completing the program offered by Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services (KKETS).

Just over half of the 66 students who walked across the stage at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium were female, a ratio that has remained consistent since the program was founded in 2012, according to a KKETS news release.

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