Sofie Nielsen, 16, secures a tassel onto her graduation cap just before walking with the 2017 graduating class of Nikiski Middle-High School on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at the school’s gymnasium in Nikiski, Alaska. A foreign exchange student from Denmark, Nielsen will return home to complete high school this fall, but said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk with her classmates when offered the chance. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski grads put cap on high school careers

Nikiski graduates know how to have fun.

From their bedazzled and decked-out graduation caps to their inside jokes to their class motto, taken from the prolific J.K. Rowling character Albus Dumbledore, the graduates celebrated their accomplishments in style Tuesday night during their ceremony at the Nikiski Middle-High School gymnasium.

Valedictorian Avery Kornstad made sure to etch the moment into history with the petroglyph of her generation — a selfie. Whipping out a selfie stick during her speech and turning her back to the audience, she captured her classmates and the family members packing the bleachers in their jubilant state.

The graduates have varied plans for their lives now that they’re free of high school. Some, like 18-year-old salutatorian Savannah Rizzo, plan to head straight to college to continue their education. She will attend Utah Valley University for animation and game design, a program that only accepts 30 students a year, she said.

“I get bored of a lot of things, so I thought, ‘Hey, maybe animation will be cool,’” Rizzo said. “So I’m going to try that out.”

Rizzo said the tight-knit community of teachers and students at Nikiski are an aspect of her education she’ll miss at a large university.

“I think that we have some, like really fantastic staff,” she said. “They’re basically friends.”

Twins Clayton and Curtis Larson, 17, are headed their separate ways after graduation. However, they both picked somewhere warm to spend the start of their adult lives — Curtis will attend the Universal Technical Institute in Arizona to become a diesel mechanic, and Clayton leaves for training at Georgia’s Fort Benning in June.

“(It’ll be) completely difference ‘cause I’m from Alaska, and I’ve never been really outside of the state living anywhere else, so all I know is cold,” Clayton said.

Of their time at Nikiski High, Curtis said he’ll probably miss seeing their friends every day the most.

“It went by fast,” Clayton said.

While his brother is leaving town this summer, Curtis will get some more time to say goodbye as he spends the summer working before college.

“We’re going to setnet on the Kenai beach,” he said.

Some grads are staying a bit closer to home this fall. Madison Williams, 18, will attend Kenai Peninsula College for a year to get her general education requirements out of the way before heading back to Santa Barbara, California, where she is originally from.

She, too, cited Nikiski’s teachers as something she’ll miss most about high school.

“They’re involved, they’re friendly,” Williams said. “Like involved more than other teachers at other schools are, like my past school. Teachers here really care, and teachers here really care about your future.”

For 18-year-old Ayla Pitt, Tuesday’s graduation was perhaps the second most exciting ceremony she’ll participate in this summer. She’ll be getting married in 17 days, then beginning her college education at KPC while she decides what she wants to major in. Her future husband is in the National Guard, so getting a good chunk of their education paid for if they remain in-state was a major motivator, she said.

Pitt said her friends, teachers and sports coaches were all special to her throughout high school. When asked what made them so, she couldn’t decide on just a few things.

“Everything,” she said.

Sofie Nielsen, 16, will travel the farthest away when the school year ends. A foreign exchange student from Denmark, Nielsen will head home to retake her sophomore year and complete high school. Nevertheless, she was invited to walk with the graduating class.

“So of course I said yes,” she said.

Nielsen arrived in Alaska in August and spent the entire year getting to know her classmates and the community, so she’ll bring several parting thoughts home with her.

“One of the biggest ones is how nice people are and how easy it was to make friends,” she said. “I just came and after a week people were so open and talkative.”

The 2017 Nikiski Middle-High School graduates include Maiya Anderson, Paige Brame, Silas Buss, Avery Carew, Maizie Carpenter, Molly Cason, Katlyn Cogle, Abigail Davis, Crystal Epperheimer, Warren Gage, Makayla Hansen, Nathan Heathers, Emily Hensley, Dashchiinii Hicks, Kaitlyn Hoeldt, Thure Hooper, Dakota Hupp, Avery Kornstad, Clayton Larson, Curtis Larson, Penelope Litzen, Michale Meyers, Matthew Minium, Tayalur Moore, Dalton Mullins, Delaina Mullins, Zoe Murphy, Desmeranda Napoka, Rowen Patterson, Andrew Pennison, Patrick Perry, Connor Peterkin, Ayla Pitt, Amy Porter, Lochlan Quiner, Savannah Rizzo, Lauren Ryan, Gregory Jakob Schmidt, Seyara Showalter, Skyler Smith, Anders Solmonson, Taya Uhlrich, Brianna Vollertsen, Mark Weathers, Maddison Williams, Tirzah Young and Kelcei Zoda.

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Graduates of Nikiski Middle-High School spared no expense when it came to decorating their caps for their Tuesday, May 23, 2017 ceremony at the school in Nikiski, Alaska. Clayton Larson’s hat, pictured here, is adorned to represent his path to the U.S. Army following graduation. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

From left to right: Desmeranda Napoka, Ayla Pitt, Brianna Vollertsen, Madison Williams and Sofie Nielsen pose for a quick picture before walking in their graduation ceremony Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at Nikiski Middle-High School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

A graduate of Nikiski Middle-High School fidgets with his flower, which all the students carried, during the graduation ceremony Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at the school gymnasium in Nikiski, Alaska. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

Soon-to-be graduates of Nikiski Middle-High School watch in rapture as their classmate, Mark Weathers, performs “Divenire” on the piano during their ceremony Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at the school in Nikiski, Alaska. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

Soon-to-be graduates of Nikiski Middle-High School laugh and cheer during their ceremony Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at the school’s gymnasium in Nikiski, Alaska. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

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