It’s that time of year when Pomp and Circumstance and mortarboard caps fill the air, a time of teenage passage. And for most students at Bethel Regional High School, it’s a time of saying goodbye to friends who’ve been together with since kindergarten and preparing for a future apart. So before receiving their diplomas, the 48 Bethel graduates gathered backstage one last time. KYUK’s Anna Rose MacArthur was there and has this story.
Mark Kolbus: I really can’t explain how I’m feeling right now, because I don’t know, I’ve never experienced anything like this before, like proceeding into the next step of life. If I had to describe it with one word, I’d say overwhelmed.
Andrea Wuya: It’s something you kinda expect for a whole year. It’s something that you basically expect your whole school career.
Mark Kolbus: I’m just kinda ready to get out of here. Just high school. It takes a beating on you.
Kaytlynne Lewis: Like now, right now, I’m feeling oh my gosh, you know, I’m really excited. I can’t wait. And I just can’t believe this is happening.
Emmett Stuart: I’m pretty nervous like mostly to be on stage.
KYUK: It’s 30 minutes before graduation. Families and teachers are taking their seats in the gym where the ceremony will be held. I’m next door. In a small room with dozens of seniors wearing glossy blue gowns. They’re taking selfies, doing each other’s makeup, helping put on each other’s caps, messing up each other’s caps. And a few of them are practicing these elaborate handshakes.
Kaytlynne Lewis and Maria Sebastian: It’s kinda like left hands, knuckle touch and ka-boom!
Kaytlynne Lewis: I’m Kaytlynne Lewis.
Maria Sebastian: Maria Sebastian.
Maria Sebastian: We actually had a lot, but then we came up with a lot of different ones, but then we settled on like one.
KYUK: The girls explain that the seniors, that when they walk into the gym, they’ll walk down the center aisle two-by-two, and before they split to take their seats, they’ll do something— like a handshake, a dance spin, a fist pound.
Kaytlynne Lewis: It’s just a thing.
Maria Sebastian: To make it funny. Like to make it entertaining or something.
KYUK: That’s Maria. I ask her how she feels about graduating.
Maria Sebastian: It’s exciting, but it’s sad at the same time. Because I’m not gonna like see the people I grew up with every day, and we’re just going to go on our separate ways into life, I guess.
KYUK: This was something most of the students said—that they’ve known and gone to school with most of these kids most their lives. They spoke about how close they all are, how much they’ll miss each other, how they’ve come together. Two instances of them doing this came up again and again.
Haley O’Brien: They were all instances where our class came together and united to get something done.
My name is I’m Haley O’Brien, and I’m the class president and I’m the salutatorian.
Senior Skip Day we all gave each other rides and all went out to the pit and played games together. And before we went out there, we all cleaned trash around BNC, because they gave us money so we could get snacks and stuff.
KYUK: And then what happened with prom?
Haley O’Brien: So prom was in a new building this year, and there’s big windows on the walls, and they didn’t really think about the sun doesn’t go down until 11. Like the room was bright, and it was really awkward. So there was this other smaller room. And the senior class moved all the equipment into the smaller room so we could have prom in there. So it wouldn’t be so bright.
KYUK: And then how was prom?
Haley O’Brien: It was a lot of fun!
KYUK: Haley was one of four salutatorians. Three of them were giving a speech together.
Adian Kuhne: Yeah, we wrote a speech today at lunch. Yeah, we spent 20 minutes on it while we ate a pizza at Baba’s. It’s going to be good.
Adian Kuhne: I’m Adian Kuhne. I’m salutatorian number three.
KYUK: Is there any powerful theme you’re trying to impart?
Adian Kuhne: Just the unity of our class and working together to accomplish bigger things. We’re super, super, super close. I mean, everyone is involved in everyone else’s life. From no matter what activities you’re in. You’re in robotics, or like me, I’m the captain of the basketball team, and I hang out with all sorts of people who do all sorts of different activities: student government, band, and all that kind of stuff. There’s no walls between any groups or anything. It’s pretty cool.
Teacher: It’s time to start lining up!
KYUK: It was time. The students lined up. The teachers told them to turn off their cell phones, to spit out their gum. And the seniors walked—two-by-two—into the gym.
[Applause and Pomp and Circumstance rises]
Ellie Coggins: When people are watching this, they should know that they are watching a group of kids that are really a family, and this is something really unique and special about this class. I mean, we’re the class that picked up trash during Senior Ditch Day. Like we’re pretty much the coolest. Know that this isn’t just a group of individuals, this is a family.
KYUK: That’s Ellie Coggins. One of the four salutatorians.
The graduation was what you see at most high school graduations. Speeches, tears, diplomas, loud, manic cheering from proud and perhaps relieved family and friends. At one point, a slideshow of the students played—a baby photo would appear to be replaced by the person’s senior photo.
And then something you don’t see at every graduation.
Something uniquely Alaskan.
The students picked up dance fans. The boys kneeling in the front. The girls standing behind.
And they did a dance of thanksgiving—for the land and for each other.
And then, they did what they came here to do, what this whole ceremony is all about. They moved on.
Maria Sebastian: I’m going to California State University San Marcos. I’m going to get my bachelor’s in sociology for social work, and after that I’m gonna go to law school.
Emmett Stuart: Go to Job Corp and to become a certified electrician.
Andrea Wuya: Sacramento State. I don’t know what I want to do, but I do know that I want to go forward.
Ellie Coggins: Arizona State University in Tempe, and I’m going to study film production.
Mark Kolbus: University of Alaska Fairbanks. It’s like my dream school. And then move onto medical school.
Amanda Achee: UAA and studying elementary education.
Adian Kuhne: I’m going to Western Washington to get a bachelors degree in biology, specializing in genetics.
Haley O’Brien: I’m going to attend Stanford, and I’m going into nursing. Congratulations to everyone. We did it.