Under the painted gaze of snarling Nikiski bulldogs, Nikiski Middle/High School’s 31-student graduating class entered the school gym Monday evening holding white lilies while the school band performed “Pomp and Circumstance.” While families and friends looked on, graduates made their way to the front of the gym to celebrate their academic achievements.
Student Body President Madalyn Stichal gave the ceremony’s opening remarks, during which she urged her fellow classmates to believe in themselves and shared that her apprehension about graduating had turned into excitement about the future. Stichal said her peers have helped her become the person she is today and that she is looking forward to seeing what they all achieve.
“As students and friends, we have made many memories together, many good and some bad, most of which we can now look back on and laugh,” Stichal said. “We went through so much during the past decade … despite the fighting, we never hesitated to have each other’s backs. I consider myself lucky that I met you all and to be a part of the strong bond we have created.”
Also in attendance Monday were Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Director of Information Services Eric Soderquist, school board member Patti Truesdell and school board member Jason Tauriainen, who represents Nikiski.
Class Valedictorian Levi Anderson performed a rendition of John Mayer’s “Stop This Train” and said he’s struggled this year with the high expectations he’s put on himself. Now, he said he’s focusing on just being himself, even though he’s not sure what that “self” looks like yet.
“If you constantly make decisions based on what you think other people want you to do, you’ll never be satisfied in life,” Anderson told graduates.
In his commencement address, Nikiski Middle/High School teacher Jesse Bjorkman — who was selected by the class of 2022 to speak — drew laughs from the crowd. Bjorkman encouraged graduates to go forward in life with kindness in their hearts, to be humble in their pursuits and to never give up just because something is difficult.
“You guys, it’s been my pleasure to teach all of you,” Bjorkman said. “There’s immense creativity, will and drive in all of your class. All of you are gifted with some amazing gifts, skills, tools and abilities.”
Class Salutatorian Rylee Ellis said she felt pressured to leave Alaska or to attend a four-year university after graduation, but that neither option was attractive to her. She said she’s staying in Alaska and is going through an online program to get her career diploma as a veterinary assistant.
“I’ve learned more than ever this year, that whatever makes me happy is the right choice,” Ellis said. “ … You know what’s best for you and that’s the beautiful thing about life: We have the ability to choose for ourselves. Sometimes what we choose may not be the right choice, but we live and learn.”
Nikiski Middle/High School’s 2022 commencement ceremony can be streamed in full on the school’s Facebook page.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Levi Anderson VH
Emily Durfee *
Rylee Ellis S
Rory Gilmartin *
Madalyn Stichal *H
* – National Honor Society, gold cords
V – Valedictorian
S – Salutatorian