More than 142 degrees, certificates, GEDs and certifications were awarded to graduates of Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River and Kachemak Bay campuses Thursday.
The commencement ceremony, which began with a Dena’ina land acknowledgement, took place virtually and was streamed live on the college’s Facebook page.
Live comments congratulating graduates on their accomplishments poured into the chat box throughout the ceremony, which at one point had more than 80 viewers. University of Alaska commencement ceremonies are being held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Introductory remarks were made by outgoing Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner, who said Thursday’s commencement was the 35th he’d been a part of while at KPC. Turner, who is retiring on July 1, was also named Director Emeritus and given the Meritorious Service Award during the ceremony.
“I understand how hard your journey has been, especially the last three semesters,” Turner said. “You’ve proven your resilience and ability to overcome unbelievable odds despite the pandemic. My message to you is that you should take a look in your rearview mirror tonight and then charge ahead to your future tomorrow.”
Kenai River Campus Valedictorian Michelle Wicker graduated summa cum laude with an Associate of Applied Science in Process Technology and Industrial Process Instrumentation, as well as with a Certificate in Petroleum Technology.
“There will be many moments of fear and uncertainty in your life, but there is nothing quite like that feeling of satisfaction when you’ve taken a risk and succeeded,” Wicker said. “Today we celebrate that success and all of the hard work it took to get here. Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments.”
Kachemak Bay Campus Valedictorian Zoe Cramer spoke on the challenges that learning remotely posed to KPC students throughout the pandemic.
“It’s been so, so hard for all of us to, you know, wake up every day and make a schedule from home or, you know, staring at screens all the time and just not having a lot of energy,” Cramer said. “It’s really, really difficult to not have that consistency and that schedule and so those who really struggled with it but still pulled through: I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of me.”
Cramer graduated magna cum laude with an Associate of Arts and hopes to pursue a career in social justice.
Graduates also heard from Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, who has spearheaded the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was selected as this year’s commencement speaker. Zink encouraged graduates to find their mission among the noise in their lives and emphasized the importance of simply showing up to things in life that seem daunting or difficult.
“You are entering into the great world of many, many possibilities and many unknowns, and so I just really congratulate all of you for getting to this point,” Zink said.
Additional awards given during the ceremony included the Kachemak Bay Campus Director’s Award, which went to Cramer, the Kachemak Bay Campus Faculty Choice Award, given to Drew Wimmerstedt, the Kachemak Bay Campus Staff Choice Award, given to Darnell Hidalgo, the Kenai River Campus Faculty Choice Award for Business and Industry, which went to Rebecca Stigall, the Kenai River Campus Faculty Choice Award for Arts and Sciences, which went to Michelle Hartley, as well as several other student union awards.
Kenai Peninsula College’s full 2021 commencement ceremony can be viewed on the college’s Facebook page.