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Kuskokwim Campus Honors Mary Ciniuq Pete During 45th Commencement

Credit Krysti Shallenberger / KYUK

The University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus notched another graduation, celebrating its 45th commencement on May 2. But this time, there was a notable absence. Staff and attendees paid tribute to former director Mary Pete, who passed away last year.  


Mary Ciniuq Pete left behind a powerful legacy protecting and promoting Yup’ik values. That was on display during the Kuskokwim Campus’ 45th commencement.

"She was a voracious reader, outstanding role model, and hard worker for her family and people. Mary’s graceful hands were expert at cutting fish and preparing subsistence foods or gourmet meals," said Nita Rearden, a friend of Pete's. Pete’s 62nd birthday just passed, and KuC honored her with a moment of silence and a slideshow of pictures and music

Meanwhile, other speakers talked about the importance of maintaining the Yup’ik way of life in a Western educational system. Associate Professor Angass'aq Sally Samson was the keynote speaker.

"As Yup’ik teachers, or teaching Yugtun, we’re taught to teach them the letter sounds before they learn to read," Samson said. "But as Yup’ik people we are taught that children learn through observation, through trials and errors, and that’s just how literacy begins," said Samson.

For Gabina Okitkun of Kotlik, it was a huge day.

"Through my journey furthering my education through the education program, there were 10 words that the first letters spell out a sentence that I would use when I got into a new situation," Okitkun said. 

She spent years and semesters slowly working through her class requirements so that she could get her bachelors of arts in child development and family studies, and she did it all while raising a family and working. Now that she’s done, she had these words of advice:

"Whenever you get yourself into a new situation, always remember the 10 words you make up to get through it. Make it spell out 'Do your best.' That was what my mom would say to me. Going through these years, I knew it was a positive situation so I did my best. So mom, I did my best and I got my bachelors [of] arts," Okitkun said. 

The ceremony closed out with the Kuskokwim Campus dancers performing the first song that Mary Pete danced to. 

This year, the Kuskokwim Campus graduated 24 students. Congratulations to the graduates of 2019.