Restrictions placed on the economy and social movements due to the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed and interrupted a lot of things, but it couldn’t take a very special day away from this year’s seven graduates of Ninilchik School.
As many schools around the country have done in an effort to celebrate graduating seniors in a safe way, Ninilchik School held an alternative graduation last week.
The school recorded a commencement ceremony, complete with speeches, ahead of time and posted it on the school YouTube channel at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20, when the graduation would have taken place in person.
At the same time, graduates and their family members were invited to the main entrance of the school to pick up their diplomas and goodie bags prepared by the school. They were able to pose for photographs with their family members there.
Members of Ninilchik Emergency Services also came to the school to show support for the graduates in their various vehicles and apparatus. First responders sounded the horns and sirens as each graduate walked up to collect their diplomas from a table set up outside the school.
“While we are getting bombarded by news about the pandemic, I don’t want to take away from the accomplishments of this group,” said Principal Jeff Ambrosier in his pre-recorded commencement address. “The one message from tonight that I hope that stays with these graduates is … don’t let this diminish what you’ve done.”
“This global pandemic will eventually subside,” Ambrosier continued. “Your entire future is ahead of you. For the past 13 years, your job has been to go to school and do your best. Well that part of your life is over.”
Now, the graduates can move on to adulthood and all that comes with it, he said.
In the commencement video, valedictorian Jacob Clark addressed his fellow graduates dressed in his cap and gown outdoors.
“If you’re hearing this speech it means we did it. We won,” he said. “We managed to get through all the homework, the tests, a global pandemic, social isolation, everything. But this is our last stop.”
Clark said he’s felt overwhelmed by all the emotions that come along with graduation, and that he’d been reflecting on all the good memories he’s shared with his classmates and the community over the years.
He thanked his parents, teachers, friends and more for “shaping me into the man I am today.”
Clark said he’s learned over the last few years that it’s not the sum of one’s parts that make them who they are.
“It’s not intelligence or strength, but what you hold onto during the hardest trials of life,” Clark said. “It’s the people who stand by you through thick and thin, who help you when you get knocked down.”
Tammy Bear gave the commencement address for the virtual event. She said she wanted to focus on the advice she would have given the class of 2020 before spring break got extended, and before school buildings were closed.
Bear, a Ninilchik alum who graduated in 1988, spoke of the connection she and the students share through the school and community. She’s a “Wolverine and proud of it,” she said.
Bear spoke of how difficult it can be to leave one’s community, especially a small community like Ninilchik, to go off to college or other future plans after high school. She acknowledged that the graduates of 2020 have also known loss, and told them to know they are not alone in that. It’s yet another way in which they are connected.
“Do not be afraid to embrace change,” Bear told the graduates. “It will happen regardless.”
In his closing comments to the graduates, Ambrosier left them with a piece of advice.
“Good luck, be safe,” he said. “And wash your hands.”
The 2020 Ninilchik School graduates are: