Kerry Huff is finally going to graduate.
His graduation photos have been taken, his tux rented and he’s ready for the ceremony.
“In every aspect of the word this is a graduation for me,” he said while sitting comfortably in his office. “And it only took me 57 years.”
The office, however has changed. The wall-to-wall pictures of students and events that occurred over the years at Porter Creek Secondary School are gone.
Huff took them down during spring break to save time. He retires at the end of the month.
“I suspect that when I turn in my keys and turn in my card and it all becomes very real to me at the end of June, I’ll feel pretty weird.”
He has been thinking about leaving for a few years. Now it’s time.
During his years at Porter Creek, Huff hasn’t missed much.
He’s attended his students’ countless sports and music events over the 20 years he’s wandered Porter Creek’s halls, nine teaching and 11 as principal.
“We’ve done a good job here,” he said.
“I do think it’s time for somebody else to come in and put their stamp on the place.”
In the lead up to his departure, Huff is giving away a tie at the end of each school day.
As most of his students know, he wears a different tie every day of the year. But as he wraps up his stint at Porter Creek, he hopes to never have to wear a tie again. Or get up early for that matter.
But he’ll retain the liquorice tie a group of students made him (another school tradition has seen him dole out liquorice at the end of every day).
The tie is framed and hanging in the front office.
Huff does plan to stay in Whitehorse, but will spend three months in France after leaving school.
“I love the Yukon and I love Whitehorse, so I don’t have any intentions of going anywhere long term,” he said.
“The nice thing about retirement is you don’t have to make plans anymore.”
When speaking of the Porter Creek community, Huff uses the pronoun “we.”
The staff has tried very hard to make the school environment supportive, said Huff.
The goal has been to create a pleasant experience while expecting the students to reach their full potential.
This, in turn, would create an atmosphere between staff and students that is mutually rewarding, Huff said.
“It’s always entertaining at Porter Creek,” he said.
The students have followed Huff’s lead, as he has been enthusiastic and daring.
Over the years, Huff’s antics at school events has included kissing pigs, eating worms, having his head shaved into a mohawk and the occasional bout of sumo wrestling.
“It’s been fun,” he said, simply.
The goal has been to make a difference in his students’ lives. He feels good about his years in education, he said.
It is important to give students the second, third or fourth chance they need when they falter, he said.
“Students come back and thank you for having been there, they let you know that you were a very important part of their high school experience, those are things that are special,” he said.
When attending high school, trouble seemed to dog Huff’s footsteps.
“I was a bad kid,” he said. “That’s why they can’t do anything to me that I haven’t seen already.
“I do understand the challenges people go through. I understand that we’re not all perfect; I understand that we all make mistakes and, when I did decide to go into teaching, I wanted to make sure I was at least patient and understood where (the students) are coming from and give them the support they need to hang in there to the end.”
Huff began his career teaching 33 years ago in Russell, Manitoba, before moving to Whitehorse with his family and working at Porter Creek.
He also spent three years in the ‘90s as president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association and was vice-president of the Canadian Teacher Federation. He received recognition in Maclean’s magazine and was named one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals in 2007.
“I’ve been a fixture one way or another,” he said.
However, being a principal was never something he sat down and decided he wanted to do, said Huff.
“I thought you would lose contact with the kids,” he said.
Now, he seems ever-present in the school halls.
“In fact, most of my kids think that’s what I do for a living,” he said.
Though retired, the school won’t be far from his life. Huff lives across the street from the school and can hear the announcements from his deck.
“I’ll be back lots,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to sleeping in and phoning the school and making them turn off the bells.”
During the retirement celebration on June 12, there will be speeches and activities, including the Mr. Huff look-a-like contest.
“They’re giving me a good sendoff and I appreciate it,” Huff said.
Huff’s picture will be placed on the Hall of Fame amid the pictures of all Porter Creek graduates.
Huff is currently dispensing his last box of liquorice.
Samantha Anderson is a freelance
writer who lives in Whitehorse.