After accepting his diploma, River City Academy graduate Maxwell Mock shakes hands with Kenai Peninsula School Board member Marty Anderson during River City’s graduation ceremony at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Monday, May 21, 2018 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion).

River City Academy graduates nine

The nine River City Academy students who turned their tassels at a Monday afternoon graduation ceremony at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex spoke about the interests they had discovered during their time at the small, tight-knit school, and about the people that had helped shape them there.

The ceremony was brief and light-hearted, featuring a commencement address in which Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Director of Elementary and Secondary Education John Pothast quoted”Hamlet,” Walt Whitman, and the 1996 Apple Computers “Think Different” ad campaign. As master of ceremonies, River City Principal Dawn Edwards-Smith carried on the school custom of comparing the graduates to a themed set of fictional characters — this year, Snow White and the seven dwarves, plus another fairy tale princess.

For graduate Maxwell Mock, the interest he discovered was science — he is planning to attend Kenai Peninsula College to major in chemistry or another science. He credits his interest to River City Academy science teacher Carol Hutto, who died in late summer 2017. Mock said “there was never a dull moment in the classroom” with Hutto, and that “she’d make the science relate to the world.” On Monday he recalled one particular chemistry lesson, in which Hutto had the students solve a fictional murder mystery with chemical clues.

“We had to figure out what was what, apply it, and make the connections,” Mock said.

Salutatorian Hans Hesse said he is “looking into library science and archival research,” initially with an online course at Kenai Peninsula College, then with another program.

“That would be a lot of independent, focused study,” Hesse said. “I feel like RCA (River City Academy) really prepped me for that, giving me the ability to handle individual assignments the way I wanted to do it.”

It wasn’t an individual but a set of community institutions that inspired Hesse’s post-high school direction.

“I’ve always liked the community resource of a library,” Hesse said. “I think it’s a great place to disseminate information. It’s a completely egalitarian and equitable environment where anybody can come and get books for free. I’ve always been passionate about making information available. … Things like youth librarians have always been a part of my life. It’s a fun community environment that I really like.”

The pins adorning graduate Elliot Fuhrman’s stole included one showing a pair of masks, one laughing and one scowling — the traditional symbol of theater. During his time at River City, Fuhrman “delved into drama, really delved into drama.” The pins represent letter awards for drama earned in all four years of his high school career, during which he performed in 12 plays.

Though River City offers drama classes during its interims — periods of three or four weeks when River City instructors offer courses outside core academic subjects — most of the plays Fuhrman performed in were Soldotna High School productions or community plays such as the Kenai Performers’ recent production of “Shrek: The Musical,” in which Fuhrman said he played three or four parts.

Fuhrman intends to earn an associate’s degree from a Lower 48 community college and later a bachelor’s degree from a larger school. Though he doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to study or where, Fuhrman said there’s at least one thing certain about his plans.

“I’m definitely going to do at least one play,” Fuhrman said. “I do love theater.”

Reach Ben Boettger at

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