Jill Burnham receives her degree from Kachemak Bay Campus Director Carol Swartz at KBC’s May 4 graduation. Burnham moved to Homer in October 2015 and completed her associates degree, which she started in 1981 before pursuing a career in the arts.-Photo by Anna Frost, Homer News

Jill Burnham receives her degree from Kachemak Bay Campus Director Carol Swartz at KBC’s May 4 graduation. Burnham moved to Homer in October 2015 and completed her associates degree, which she started in 1981 before pursuing a career in the arts.-Photo by Anna Frost, Homer News

KBC grads look ahead

Professors Beth Graber and Michael Hawfield were awarded the honor of emeritus professor titles at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College graduation on May 4. The title of emeritus is given to retiring professors who exemplify principles of exemplary academic standards, great scholarship and service to the academy, said University of Alaska Anchorage Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Samuel Gingerich.

Usually only full professors, like Graber, receive the emeritus title upon retirement, however, the university guidelines make room for exceptional circumstances. While Hawfield was an associate professor, he was deemed worthy of nomination. 

“It was judged in various levels of review up to the chancellor that Professor Hawfield meets those exceptional circumstances based upon his … record of outstanding service to the academy,” Gingerich said.

Not only is it rare for Hawfield to receive the title, but the fact that Graber and Hawfield are married makes the bestowal of emeritus status on two professors at the same college even more unique, Gingerich said.

In addition to its standout faculty, Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College graduation showed off students who achieved their goals after going on their own journeys. 

Valedictorian

Shannon Reid was named valedictorian, an honor which she attributed to her family’s support. She is working on plans for her next step — ideas for which include pursuing wilderness medicine and traveling.

“Even though my family’s really unconventional, only my oldest brother out of seven kids has gone to school and completed a degree, everyone was really supportive by honestly making me food, that’s kind of our love language and providing support like that. They would ask me questions about how it’s going, give me the space and encouragement I needed. They always were the cheerful home to come back to after a day of studying,” Reid said.

Turning a new leaf

After Jill Burnham moved to Homer with her husband last October, she found that her previous work experience led to mostly volunteer positions in Homer. Burnham spent the last 15 years working at the Los Angeles Opera — half of which she spent in education with the organization. Last week, she received her associates of arts, finishing a degree she started as a college student in Missouri but left behind for a Hollywood job. 

“I started my education in Stevens College in Columbia, Missouri, in 1981 and I dropped out to take a really sexy job in radio and television in Hollywood and then I wound up starting a couple of major, what turned out to be important arts organizations with my mom who is a well known figure in the West Coast avant garde arts world and it just spiraled from there. I kept doing this kind of groundbreaking work that there was no degree for so I kept getting recruited and recruited and recruited and finally here I am in my 50s with no degree and great job experience but great job experience in Homer isn’t necessarily super valuable so it was an opportunity for me to have a new career,” Burnham said.

Burnham grew up in Laguna Beach, Calif., and met her husband Lester Strydom when he came down to Los Angeles from Homer. They married two weeks later and he’s been trying to convince her to move to Homer for the last 15 years, she said. Though she loved her job at the Los Angeles Opera, now, it’s his turn. 

When she met with an advisor at Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College, she was told she could have an asssocitaes of arts in one semester. Burnham was impressed by the level of education she received at the Kachemak Bay Campus, as a similar sized college in southern California would not have the same level of faculty, she said.

“I kept wandering into Beth Graber’s office and going, ‘are you for real? How in the world do I get to have you as my professor — this is crazy,’” Burnham said. “And Mike (Hawfield) and Debbie Tobin who converted me to biology. So really the massive level of education and ability that these professors have is what boggles my mind.”

Overcoming obstacles

Twenty-four years ago, Tanise Latham began her college education after overcoming teen homelessness on the streets of New York City. Latham was physically abused by her mother and sent to boarding school by her grandfather in an attempt to remove her from the situation. However, poor choices by Latham as a teen going through poor situations led to her no longer being able to attend the boarding school, and her mother refused to take her back in. In any case, she didn’t want to go back to the abuse.

“I thought my family at that point really wanted to kill me so I wanted nothing to do with any of them. I worked two jobs and I only needed one English credit to graduate because I was advanced, worked two jobs and went to school at night to finish. I finished top of my class,” Latham said.

She started college while married to an abusive first husband and entered the Army. She then learned she was pregnant and decided to leave to give her daughter a safe life. She left school, where she was working towards becoming a physician’s assistant and moved to the Hamptons with her daughter. Eventually, she met her current husband, who is in the Coast Guard.

“It was love at first sight, been together ever since, and my journey with him after our getting married ended up getting us to Alaska,” Latham said.

Latham began school again while living in Kodiak, but had to stop again. She started at the Kachemak Bay Campus after coming to Homer and faced health issues along the way. After an emergency surgery paused her schooling, she started again, only to fall down the stairs during her last semester. She dislocated her shoulder completely; damage from her childhood abuse caused her shoulder to only be held in by skin. 

Latham received multiple surgeries on her arm, while continuing school. For Latham, graduating means moving on to a future she postponed years ago. She plans to continue her education on to a master’s degree and become a nurse practitioner.

“Graduating, it says goodbye to my past with my new shoulder, my family, everybody’s intact. My health’s intact. So this is going forward. Say goodbye to the past,” Latham said.

Valedictorian Shannon Reid laughs as she takes photos with her parents Linda and Ian Reid at the reception after the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College graduation ceremony on May 4.-Photo by Anna Frost, Homer News

Valedictorian Shannon Reid laughs as she takes photos with her parents Linda and Ian Reid at the reception after the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College graduation ceremony on May 4.-Photo by Anna Frost, Homer News

Tanise Latham is surrounded by her family at KBC’s graduation reception May 4. With her are her husband Chief Warrant Officer on the USCGC Hickory William Latham, Faith Latham,  Tay’Lia McMahon with her son Bentley Ryan McMahon, holding his grandmother’s degree, Heather Latham and Josh Latham.-Photo by Anna Frost, Homer News

Tanise Latham is surrounded by her family at KBC’s graduation reception May 4. With her are her husband Chief Warrant Officer on the USCGC Hickory William Latham, Faith Latham, Tay’Lia McMahon with her son Bentley Ryan McMahon, holding his grandmother’s degree, Heather Latham and Josh Latham.-Photo by Anna Frost, Homer News

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