Their aspirations are diverse, and their paths may soon diverge, but Kenai Central High Schools graduates had one last opportunity to share a moment together Monday night.
Gathered in the high school cafeteria as they waited for their big moment, the soon-to-be graduates fiddled with one another’s tassels, fixed their hair, checked cell phones, took selfies and contemplated what comes next.
“I really am going to miss the friends,” Jakeb O’Brien said. “We all go somewhere else. No one wants to stay in Alaska at this age, so we’re all going to separate. But hopefully we all come back, so I’m excited for that.”
O’Brien, who will pursue a bachelor’s degree in biomedicine at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, said he was inspired by his dad, who has emphasized the importance of pursuing higher goals and doing good.
“Might as well give back a little bit — try medicine,” O’Brien said. “It sounds interesting. (There are) so many different fields of medicine.”
Lexy Carrasco, who attended Kenai Central her senior year after being homeschooled for most of her education, was also inspired by a family member in her chosen career path. She intends to enroll in Kenai Peninsula College this fall, with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. She decided on the career after seeing her brother, who has cerebral palsy, receive physical therapy.
“It clicked in my head I want to do something like that and help people,” she said.
Although he’s excited for the next phase of his life, James Siamani is also sad to see this chapter of his life closing.
“It feels good that I’m done with school, but at the same time it’s awakening that I won’t be able to see some of these guys later on in life,” he said.
Siamani, who transferred to Kenai Central High School from Hawaii, said he has enjoyed living in Alaska and attending school here.
“A little bit of culture shock, but I’m in,” he said. “I learned a lot here.”
He’s planning on attending Kenai Peninsula College in the fall, but hopes to transfer to a college where he can play football.
Valedictorian Mayzie Potton and her six fellow valedictorians — Brittany Gilman, Devynn Heath, Leah Johnson, Natalie Marlowe, Willow Morrow and Alisa Posey-Schave — collaborated to make their farewell speech particularly poignant.
Johnson said the group took inspiration from her sister — who was valedictorian at the school eight years ago.
“They had 150 kids in their class, and they did a speech with a line about each student. And it would just be something simple like this person plays hockey or does bowling,” she said.
For the 2018 class, which was about half the size of her sister’s, the seven valedictorians wanted to do something more detailed about each of the students.
“So we all divvied up 13 names each and talked to they friends and used what we knew and what the teachers said about them to come up with something personal about each student in our class to share,” Johnson said.
Johnson will attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the fall, where she plans to study psychology. Her ultimate goal is to work with children with disabilities, a passion she discovered while doing volunteer work tutoring overseas and doing equestrian therapy with children.
“I realized that I actually work really well with kids — something that I did not think I was good at. I really really love it. And I just want to spend my life doing it,” she said.
As she reflected on her time at Kenai Central, Johnson said she is glad to be part of such a small graduating class.
“I always thought that was kind of oh we’re missing out cause it’s so small, but really we’re actually so lucky to have such a small school,” Johnson said. “I feel like even if I don’t personally know every kid really well, I at least know their names. I know a little bit about who they are, their families. We’ve seen each other for the last couple years, I have a relationship with every student, every teacher, and that’s just been incredible. And it’s made leaving really really hard.”