There were nerves and smiles, a few tears, some bedazzled caps and a lot of relief in the moments before Kenai Peninsula College’s 2018 River Campus graduates took their seats.
More than 100 students earned associate and bachelor’s degrees and technical certificates at the college’s 48th Annual Commencement Ceremony, held Thursday evening in the packed Kenai Central High School auditorium. Another 25 earned general education degrees.
Former Olympian and current President and Chief Executive Officer of the Alaska Community Foundation Nina Kemppel gave the keynote speech at the event. Jian Guo, who graduated summa cum laude with an Associate of Arts degree, and Patrick Michels, who also earned an Associate of Arts degree, were this year’s valedictorians.
A long time coming
It was a short trip across a stage, but a long journey getting there for many of the graduates.
It took Kenai resident Anna Hall six years to earn her Associate of Applied Science in Nursing degree. The mother of three girls, Hall said she decided to go back to school so she could build a more flexible and rewarding career. She spent two years fulfilling prerequisite courses and waited two more years before being accepted into the two-year nursing program.
“I’m feeling really excited,” Hall said. “I’m glad that it’s over. It’s kind of a bittersweet, because it’s just been a long process. It’s a really small group of us. We’ve grown really close with each other, and it’s just an exciting day to share with them.”
Another one of the six students who graduated with an Associates of Applied Science in Nursing, Ashley Prakash, moved from Palmer in 2016 to enroll in the KPC program and credited her instructors with helping her succeed.
“I’m glad I moved here, just mainly for them,” she said. “I don’t think I would have gotten as good of an experience if I didn’t have those two.”
Now that she’s gotten her degree, Prakash is hoping to land a hospital job in Anchorage.
“I’m super happy,” she said. “It’s kind of weird to be kind of proud of yourself, but I feel like I ‘done did it,’” she said.
For Precious Sunshine Walkoff, the graduation was a way to close one chapter of her life and begin a new one. Walkoff moved to Alaska before she could complete her high school degree in her home country of Honduras. When she arrived in the state, she was too old to enroll at a local high school, but wanted to finish her education. She received her GED degree at Thursday’s ceremony, and hopes to enroll in the nursing program in the fall.
“I’m just so happy that KPC helped me get where I am today,” Walkoff said. “And to my GED teacher, he helped me a a lot. And I’m just so happy.”
For Jessica McDowell, who dropped out of school at 15, getting a GED diploma was part of an effort to get life back on track.
“It’s been a bumpy road. It’s been hard,” she said.
Now that she’s gotten her degree, she’s looking forward to pursuing a career in modeling and cosmetology, with a focus on hair and makeup styling.
“It’s honestly really exciting. I’m honestly really proud of myself,” she said. “And how I’ve pushed myself to move forward.”
Exploring new ideas
KPC gave Alasha Brito opportunity to explore her academic interests after a long hiatus from school.
“I kind of played around with a few things, and decided that I wanted to learn as much as I could,” she said.
Brito, who earned a Bachelor of Liberal Studies, found her passion in Alaska Native language studies. She took a Dena’ina language course, and eventually received an undergraduate research award for a project on technology use in Alaska Native language revitalization. The grant allowed her present her research at a conference in Juneau.
“It’s exciting — a little nervous about what’s coming next,” she said.
Opening career opportunities
Nikiski resident Ally Vincent, who graduated with an Associates of Applied Science in Process Technology and a Petroleum Technology Certificate, hopes her degree helps her move up the career ladder. Currently a maintenance worker at the Andeavor oil refinery, Vincent has her sights set on becoming an operator. She said she appreciated the hands-on training she received at KPC, as well as the dedication of the school’s faculty.
“The teachers are really excellent,” she said.
Skylar Taylor, a former Marine who served four tours overseas — three in Iraq and one in Afghanistan — decided school could help him start a new chapter of his life after leaving the service.
“I got out in 2014, and basically told myself it’s time to go to school,” he said.
Taylor, who earned an Associate of Applied Science in Process Technology degree and a Certificate in Petroleum Technology, expects he will put his education to good use in the local oil or gas industry. His dream, however, is to take his industrial know-how to build a career in the brewing industry.
“The process technology degree covers anything that has an assembly line of some sort,” he said.
Taylor said he’s back in Alaska to stay, and would love to run his own brewing company someday.