Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Family and friends of the 2015 Cook Inlet Academy class snap photographs of the six graduates Sunday, May 10, 2015, at Cook Inlet Academy in Soldotna, Alaska.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Family and friends of the 2015 Cook Inlet Academy class snap photographs of the six graduates Sunday, May 10, 2015, at Cook Inlet Academy in Soldotna, Alaska.

Cook Inlet Grads look from past to future

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Sunday, May 10, 2015 11:58pm
  • News

Following the turn of the tassel, Cook Inlet Academy’s six 2015 graduates were off.

The tight knit group that has functioned as peers and friends for one another for the past four years celebrated accomplishments and divulged upcoming plans Sunday afternoon surrounded by friends and family in the Cook Inlet Academy gymnasium.

Benjamin Standerfer, winner of the 2015 Voice of Democracy Essay contest through the Soldotna Veterans of Foreign Wars office, said graduating Sunday was his biggest accomplishment.

“I made it through high school,” Standerfer said.

The 2015 class accomplished far more than graduation however. Madison Orth graduated Summa Cume Laude and Jessie Zimmerman graduated Magna Cume Laude.

Andrew Barlow, has been accepted into the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media, and was awarded Musician of the Year at Cook Inlet in 2015. His teachers helped instill in him a passion for performing during his education.

“They sincerely love you,” said Riley Smithwick, Barlow’s fellow graduate. “Every single one does.”

Smithwick said he was thankful for the small class and the Christian education he received at Cook Inlet Academy.

He will be attending Kenai Peninsula College next fall to further delve into his career possibilities.

Principal Mary Rowley said the group of graduates has the skill set to accomplish whatever they strive for.

More than $100,000 has been awarded to the group as a whole through local and national scholarships, and Orth will be receiving more than $70,000 individually.

“Here we have award winning writers and incredible athletes,” Rowley said. “They have achieved excellence and will continue to pursue excellence in life.”

Rowley also said she is proud of the group’s mutual sense of giving back to the community.

Orth, Zimmerman and Smithwick all have aspirations to someday become business owners.

Ashleigh Hammond plans to stay in Central Kenai next fall to learn how to operate heavy machinery and carry on the family business.

“She already swept our parking lot,” Rowley said. “She does a great job.”

Zimmerman said Cook Inlet facilitated her attention and focus on academics.

“I was able to put everything aside and try my hardest,” Zimmerman said. “No matter what I put everything I have into every class and succeeded.”

Zimmerman said the small classes allowed for personalized instruction in the classroom. If she or her peers were struggling, her educators were able to help address and improve their performance.

Vice Principal Gary Leiter said the cohesive classroom atmosphere carried over after hours. The six classmates were also close friends and made trips to dinner, the movies and community activities together.

The slideshow Sunday evening illustrated their friendships, Leiter said. Almost everyone photograph that flickered across the projector screen had more than one student in it, he said.

“It seems like where there’s one there’s the rest of them,” Leiter said. “They’re really going to miss each other.”

Cook Inlet graduations include one tradition, Leiter said. Around the perimeter of the gym were Senior Tables with pictures, awards and tapestries that served as an outline for each student’s successes in the community and at school, he said.

Four out of the six students have already taken college level courses, Leiter said.

“I will see when I get into college how much else I’ll have to learn,” Standerfer said. “But I think I am pretty far along.

Reach Kelly Sullivan at

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion The 2015 Cook Inlet Academy graduating class poses for a group photograph Sunday, May 10, 2015, at Cook Inlet Academy in Soldotna, Alaska.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion The 2015 Cook Inlet Academy graduating class poses for a group photograph Sunday, May 10, 2015, at Cook Inlet Academy in Soldotna, Alaska.

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