Enjoy the moment. Together.
That was the advice of Elizabeth Rozeboom, River City Academy valedictorian, at the institution’s graduation ceremony Wednesday in the Skyview Middle School gym just outside of Soldotna.
Twenty-six graduates, along with family, faculty and other guests, did just that on and around a stage area decorated with light blue and white balloons. Twenty also are students at Kenai Peninsula Middle College, which allows students to earn both high school and college credit and get support as they begin their college careers.
Rozeboom told the audience the event celebrated not only those receiving diplomas, but those in the audience who helped graduates get those diplomas.
“As we move forward into this next transition, remember the ones who were there for you,” Rozeboom said. “Remember that our life is only meaningful because of the people in it.”
The ceremony was a celebration of the meaningful people in students’ lives.
Principal Shea Nash started by introducing the honored guests — Nate Crabtree, director of human resources for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District; Eric Soderquist, director of information services at KPBSD; and school board members Penny Vadla and Beverley Romanin.
Nash said River City Academy is a hard place to sum up.
“But I can summarize why RCA can work for such a diverse group of students,” he said. “Our staff is absolutely incredible. They’re not just teachers, they’re committed mentors who genuinely care about each student’s education and future.
“They embody the mission of RCA to meet students where they are at and guide them to take charge of their own educational outcomes.”
The ceremony then honored students for scholarships and awards. Hannah Crabtree received so many that at one point she was told to stop returning to her seat and just stay up on stage.
After that, as is RCA tradition, each student had the option of giving a speech. The speeches had the theme that Rozeboom would later champion of thanking the meaningful people who had made graduation possible.
Crabtree called her mother, Annie Crabtree, on the stage for a tearful thank you.
“I owe everything to my mom,” Hannah said. “All those fancy awards was because she helped me get there.”
Next up, LaDawn Druce, who came out of retirement to be the school counselor, gave the students credit for graduating despite spending one-third of their high school years in quarantine, Zoom and learning remotely.
“You stayed the course,” Druce said. “You continued to fight through the dark times, the trying times, the lonely times, and you persevere.”
Each student then gave a flower to a meaningful person in their lives, then it was time for the salutatorian and valedictorian addresses.
Salutatorian Esther Joseph started off her speech by giving her Yupik name and acknowledging that the ceremony was taking place on traditional Dena’ina homelands. She thanked the Dena’ina for their stewardship of the land and waters that continues to this day.
Joseph grew up in Hooper Bay and thanked friends and family for helping her navigate the path to Kenai and graduation.
“I hope that I will be graduating into a world where everyone is able to be themselves without fear and where everyone can exist how they are and be free of persecution,” Joseph said. “I’m hopeful for a future where my culture is healthy and have broken the generational trauma that persists even today.
“I hope that my culture can continue to have strong leaders to bring Native youth, all youth, into the future.”
Rozeboom then gave her address before the party moved into the hall for cake and conversation.
Enjoying the moment. Together.
Spring 2023 graduates