Celebrating the graduates of Homer Flex School has never been traditional — they’re not traditional students. This year was made even more unique by the stipulations put on graduation ceremonies by the state amid the global novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Homer Flex commencement ceremony usually takes place at Land’s End on the Homer Spit. The class of 2020 still got to celebrate on the Spit, but not indoors. The school hosted a drive-up ceremony on Monday evening near the Homer Harbor’s Deep Water Dock.
After listening to a pre-recorded program that played over KBBI Public Radio, graduates were invited out of their vehicles to collect their diplomas and a bag of goodies. Then, they got their photo taken by a professional photographer and their family members could join them for a photo as well.
The commencement address was split between staff members Colette Choate, David Lefton, Lindsay Martin and Ingrid Harrald.
Harrald said she wouldn’t have imagined not being able to celebrate the graduates they way the school normally does at Land’s End. She said the Flex graduates not only faced the challenges they’ve faced in their lives and education, but worked through them and didn’t let those challenges define them.
“Each one of you has faced more than your share of hurdles,” she said. “And you know, I think that you might be the amazing people you are today partly because of the hardships. Your struggles helped you become who you are, which, in my opinion, is some of the most supportive, empathetic young adults I know.”
The commencement ceremony was a celebration of all that work, Harrald said.
“This whole town of Homer, listening and sharing in your story of success?” she said. “So sit with that feeling. I think you should bask in it because you definitely deserve it.”
The graduates also pre-recorded their own individual speeches for the program. Some of them spoke about how the teachers and staff at Flex provided them with help and guidance during difficult times in their lives. Others thanked members of their families, and their friends, for also providing that needed support.
“Ingrid, for always being there in the darkest days of winter when sadness starts to set in,” Jonathen Bice-Dee said in his speech. “Colette, for being the most fun Language Arts teacher and always being able to see the good and the bad. Lindsay, for all the weird science experiments and gross frosting diagrams. David, for being a pretty rad P.E. teacher and making history of America fun by using music, and all the student teacher aides, Laureen and Micky for always being there to lend a helping hand. And last but not least, Chris, for being the coolest principal I’ve ever had.”
Graduate Autumn Carlson thanked the teachers and staff of Flex for checking in on students to make sure they’re doing OK. They make the school a safe environment for students, she said.
“I greatly appreciate this, because I’ve definitely been in a school that didn’t care that much, and I disliked the school because of this act,” Carlson said.
Ahead of the ceremony, Principal Christopher Brown said the students participated in the planning of their alternate commencement celebration.
“As much as we can at Flex, we like to be student driven,” he said.
Brown said that, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic closing school buildings, a good portion of the students at Homer Flex handled the transition to online education well. It’s an alternative form of learning, and Flex is a place for students who thrive better with alternative forms of learning.
The staff worked to make sure the feeling of support and connectedness was not disrupted during distance learning, Brown said. They continued to connect with students socially and emotionally.
When it comes to the graduates, Brown said this year is probably different than how they envisioned it.
“There definitely was loss for them but, well, part of being a Flex student means you probably have experienced some disappointment in your life previous to this, too,” he said.
In that way, the graduates handled the changes to their final year really well, he said.
“I think this is a very amazing group of young adults,” Brown said. “… and I hope the community in general can help us celebrate them as well, because they truly are deserving of that recognition that they are missing or that may not be in the way that they envisioned.”
Also contributing to the commencement program were community supporters Linda Rourke, Martin Zellar, Kenny Daher, Karen Wessel and Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board member Mike Illg, who all said a little something during the ceremony to support the graduates.
The 2020 Homer Flex graduates are:
Jonathen Patrick Bice-Dee
Audnia Deanne Carlson
Autumn Marie Carlson
Sierra Harmony Clark
Katlin Rose Jade Cudaback
Michael Chase Duncan
Ann Elise Franklin
Andrew Caleb Grimes
Gabriel Lynn Grimes