Brooke Kent, a Cook Inlet Academy graduate, plays and sings the song “Soar” by Meredith Andrews at the school’s graduation ceremony Sunday, May 7, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion) Brooke Kent, a Cook Inlet Academy graduate, plays and sings the song “Soar” by Meredith Andrews at the school’s graduation ceremony Sunday in Soldotna. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Cook Inlet Academy graduates take off

Cook Inlet Academy’s graduating class may be small, but the students have been busy.

With years of soccer and community service under their belts, they’ll be spread all over the United States, from Soldotna to the Midwest and Southwest by next year. Six of the seven students in the Soldotna-based Christian school’s 2017 graduating class are heading to college in the fall, and though they’re splitting up, many of them have years of memories to take along.

In the final few moments before heading out to their graduation ceremony, the graduates compared cap decorations and teased the only two who did nothing to alter their caps. They cracked jokes about how to describe their senior year, soon to be behind them.

“Don’t wanna do it again,” said graduate Noah Leaf, cracking a broad smile. Leaf, who has attended Cook Inlet Academy since pre-school and played sports throughout, plans to attend Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho and compete on the college’s track and field team.

“Great friends make it enjoyable,” said graduate Brady Hammond, eliciting a laugh and smiles from his six fellow graduates. Hammond plans to attend the University of Northwestern Saint Paul to study criminal justice, ultimately aiming to become an Alaska State Trooper.

“He’s always said it the exact same way: ‘I want to be a cop,’” teased classmate Kate Zimmerman. Some of the other graduates laughed and Hammond shrugged.

Zimmerman herself plans to take off for Prescott, Arizona, to study aerospace engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. She said she was relieved it wouldn’t be as hot as the legendary boiling temperatures in Phoenix.

Classmate Shania Johnson will go equally far from home for college. She plans to attend Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois in the fall to study nursing. Graduate Yunting “Tina” Kang, a foreign exchange student originally from Taiwan, will also study nursing, but intends to stay in Alaska and study at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Graduates Brooke Kent and Dalton Warren intend to stay in the Kenai area — Kent will attend Kenai Peninsula College for an Associate of Business degree, and Warren intends to pursue a career as an electrician.

Between the six intending to head for college, they managed to rack up more than $318,000 in scholarships, said principal Mary Rowley.

With a small class, the graduation ceremony was infused with personal notes. The night before, the graduates and their parents were able to set up booths filled with pictures, personal memorabilia, sports medals and memory books for graduation attendees to sign. As the graduates processed into the gym, they carried a rose to their parents before moving to the front of the room, and each of the graduates conducted a part of the ceremony.

The speaker, teacher Kenny Leaf — graduate Noah Leaf’s father — addressed each of the graduates with a personal note of congratulations and encouragement. They had varying amounts of time together — the last arrival, Kang, came to the school in 2014 — but formed close bonds throughout their education, he said.

“They have grown together as a family,” he said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

The four female graduates from Cook Inlet Academy pause to take a selfie before their graduation ceremony Sunday, May 7, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion) The four female graduates from Cook Inlet Academy pause to take a selfie before their graduation ceremony Sunday in Soldotna. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Cook Inlet Academy graduate Dalton Warren embraces his parents as he processed into the school’s graduation ceremony Sunday, May 7, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion) Cook Inlet Academy graduate Dalton Warren embraces his parents as he processed into the school’s graduation ceremony Sunday in Soldotna. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Cook Inlet Academy’s graduating class of 2017, with seven seniors, lines up for a final photo before heading into the graduation ceremony held at the school Sunday, May 7, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion) Cook Inlet Academy’s graduating class of 2017, with seven seniors, lines up for a final photo before heading into the graduation ceremony held at the school Sunday in Soldotna. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Four of the seven Cook Inlet Academy graduates of 2017 display the creative decorations on their caps before the school’s graduation ceremony Sunday, May 7, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion) Four of the seven Cook Inlet Academy graduates of 2017 display the creative decorations on their caps before the school’s graduation ceremony Sunday in Soldotna. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

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