In a short but sweet ceremony Tuesday night, four teenagers walked across the stage and into the next phase of their lives at Ninilchik School.
Valedictorian Tala Hadro, salutatorian Garrett Koch, Isabella Koch and Jacob Shell all had good things to say about growing up in a small town and learning in a small school. They felt the more personal relationship with teachers and the deep sense of community there were important and valuable.
Hadro was sure to sneak in one last “dad joke” during her speech before her high school career ended. She reminded the graduates that, no matter what they do and where they go, they will always have a home in Ninilchik — somewhere to go for help and safe haven.
During his own speech, Garrett Koch reflected on the ups and downs of high school, but reminded his classmates that their best days are not behind them, but ahead.
He shared one important life lesson he’s learned while flipping over his piece of paper during the speech: “There’s always a back side.”
The commencement address was given by Josh Demlow, a teacher and coach. After watching a slideshow that showed the students as they progressed from childhood, the graduates handed out flowers to special members of the audience who have helped them along the way: parents, teachers and friends.
Hadro will spend the summer working at the Ninilchik Fairgrounds thrift store before heading to University of Alaska Anchorage to complete her bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“I’m super excited for it,” she said.
Hadro grew up in Fairbanks for most of her life.
“So having the change from a really big school to a small school where I could be more one-on-one with teachers, and just meet some of the most diverse students (was good),” she said.
Shell said his plans for after high school are in the midst of changing.
“I’m kind of taking a summer off to think about it,” he said.
Shell said he appreciated the people in Ninilchik the most throughout his time there.
“I’ve made a lot of friends in this school and, you know, I’m going to be friends with some of them still,” he said.
Isabella Koch plans to get right to work, and possibly take some online college classes later this fall. She appreciated the small class sizes at Ninilchik as well.
“I liked how it was small and you got one-on-one contact with the teachers, and they could help you out more personally,” she said.
Garrett Koch is headed to Southwest Oregon Community College this fall where he will continue his basketball career. He plans to study business marketing analytics.
The sense of community in Ninilchik is something that sticks out in Garrett’s mind.