Celebrating the miles they’ve traversed — both in distance and in life experiences — the class of 2017, Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, celebrated with family, friends and lots of smiles at the May 10 commencement ceremony.
Before filing into Mariner Theatre with other graduates and receiving her General Education Development diploma, Megan Kalmakoff and her parents Harry and Nana Kalmakoff, happily posed for photos and recalled the family’s move from Chignik Lake to Homer.
In Shannon Cefalu’s valedictorian address, she described her journey toward an Associate of Arts degree.
“Three years ago I could never have imagined standing before you. I was fresh out of high school, brand new to Alaska, with no idea what I was getting myself into. College was always an abstract idea I didn’t fully understand,” Cefalu said.
She also offered three lessons her time at KBC taught her: be understanding, be kind to yourself and be brave.
“Don’t allow anything to hold you back because you’re afraid of what could happen,” Cefalu told her classmates.
Proudly wearing the hood signifying her Master of Arts in Teaching, Elementary Education, degree, Alana Greear stood with her arms wrapped around her children, Falcom and Marina, following the ceremony and shared her plans to begin teaching grades K-5 at Kachemak Selo next fall.
“We are all so proud of you. This special day belongs to you, our graduates. Commencement signifies your tremendous efforts,” Carol Swartz, KBC campus director, said at the opening of the commencement ceremony. “You’ve earned this right to sit here.”
Swartz asked the graduates to remember “the instructor who challenged you to think, inspired your creativity and nourished your imagination within our campus’s supportive community that we have tried so hard to create.”
“You have developed skills necessary to look at work and life in new ways. … Commencement celebrates not what ends here, but what is to begin here,” Swartz said. “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference. You have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
Change, as well as having an impact on the world, also was emphasized in Sara Reinert’s keynote address. Reinert, a KBC associate professor of mathematics, was unable to attend the ceremony due to health reasons. However, an off-stage camera recorded the ceremony for Reinert’s later viewing with speakers and graduates frequently waving and directing comments to the camera. Former KBC professor Michael Hawfield read her address.
Referring to a quote frequently credited to Charles Darwin, Reinert told the graduates it isn’t “the strongest of the species that survives or the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Change can happen to you, but also the opportunity that allows you to do things differently.”
Reinert summed up changes that have occurred in her lifetime, recalling that when she was the age of the graduates, women in some states couldn’t obtain a credit card, own property or serve on juries. During her high school years girls were directed to home economics instead of science classes. When she first attempted to buy an automobile on credit and was told she needed a male family member’s signature, she held off buying the car until she had saved enough to pay cash.
“What do you want to change? What will you fight for? … Are you initiating change or waiting for it?” she said.
Drawing upon the butterfly effect, the concept that tiny causes can result in big effects, Reinert called for change directed by compassion and kindness.
“I have found that it is the small, everyday deeds of everyday folk that keep the darkness at bay,” she said.
After receiving her Bachelor or Arts in history, Marsha Graham offered the baccalaureate address.
“You and I have finished traveling a road that for some was difficult, for others easy,” Graham said. “All of us tonight persevered and have the honor of wearing the cap and gown which signifies this stage of our development.”
For Graham, this stage was earmarked by having learned “that you’re never too old and it’s never too late.” During her younger years, Graham said she had been told she couldn’t learn and that her only options were “to get married and raise a family. How wrong those people were. … I stand her tonight, 25 years after beginning this journey, about to receive my second bachelors degree.”
The graduates weren’t the only ones in the spotlight. Kris Holderied, KBC Advisory Board chair, drew attention to the hard work of KBC faculty and staff. Lisa Parker, University of Alaska regent, noted Swartz’s recent induction into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.
Gary Turner, KPC director, listed the numerous degrees awarded this spring, including associates of arts and applied science, bachelors, masters and various certifications.
“This is from little Kenai Peninsula College, the third largest campus in the UA system,” Turner said. “Anchorage is first, Fairbanks is second, KPC is third, and Juneau is fourth.”
Focusing on the graduates, Turner said, “Think about those that made this possible for you to be here tonight. Tonight your family, your friends, your community are here honoring you. … All eyes have been on you all night. Now it’s time for you to recognize them.”
The graduates stood, turned, and, along with Turner, cheered and applauded those who had witnessed and supported their journey through KBC.
Finally, bringing the evening to a close, Turner said to the graduates, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. After tonight, toss off the lines and sail into your future.”