The 2022 graduating class of River City Academy celebrates Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside of Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

The 2022 graduating class of River City Academy celebrates Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside of Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

River City Academy says goodbye to 19 grads, 2 original staff members

Tuesday’s graduation was the last for two staff members who have been with the school since its beginning

The winds of change blew through River City Academy’s graduation ceremony Tuesday on the lawn outside Skyview Middle School, not only for the 19 graduates, but also for the institution itself.

The academy, according to its website, is “designed to incorporate projects-based education in a rigorous learning environment immersed with technology.” The school is currently housed in Skyview Middle School.

Tuesday’s graduation was the last for two staff members who have been with the school since its beginning — Dawn Edwards-Smith, who eventually was promoted to principal, and Tad DeGray. Both are retiring.

In a speech during the ceremony, DeGray said both River City Academy and Kenai Peninsula Middle College were Edwards-Smith’s idea.

Kenai Peninsula Middle College is a partnership between the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and Kenai Peninsula College. Kenai Peninsula Middle College students are able to complete their high school diplomas by taking courses through KPC, RCA and their local high schools.

Of the 19 graduates, 15 participated in Middle College.

DeGray said the school has come a long way from ragtag origins, including originally being called Peninsula Optional High School.

“That decision came back to bite,” DeGray said. “I can’t even count how many times that first year kids kept saying, ‘Why do I have to come to school? Isn’t it optional?’”

DeGray said the school had 30 students to start and now has 120 in seventh through 12th grade.

“Dawn, I hope this brief journey through time has made you realize what a positive and significant impact you have had on thousands of students and hundreds of teachers and parents,” he said. “You are a true visionary, a true dreamer and a true believer.”

In a speech during the ceremony, Edwards-Smith said this final year has been incredible due to the people involved.

“I’ve worked with some phenomenal teams in the past,” she said. “I will tell you, this group has been the best yet.”

Salutatorian Justin Hansen also recognized how important support from others is to success. Hansen said he has studied what makes people like astronauts and Olympians successful.

“I always noticed something,” Hansen said. “Olympians, astronauts and all of those people have countless people working behind them and working for them to propel them to success.

“So today’s not just the day to celebrate the graduating class, but to celebrate the staff members that guided us to this achievement.”

Valedictorian Evelyn Wilcox also wasted little time in thanking the staff.

“As you graduate ready to take the next step I have to say it wouldn’t have been possible without our amazing faculty,” Wilcox said. “All of us who are graduating today are a living testament to their hard work, dedication, nurturing and caring for ourselves.

“For that, we express our thanks.”

At the end of the ceremony, Edwards-Smith turned the microphone over to incoming principal Shea Nash, who told the graduates it was time to turn their tassels.

As Nash was doing this, Edwards-Smith and DeGray took a brief walk into the swirling wind and gathering sunset before returning for post-ceremony festivities.

Graduates

Lia Benner *

Kennedy Carrico

Buchanan Czarnezki *

Faith-Lynn Gattenby

Justin Hansen *

Kate Harris *

Krystyana Kalugin *

Cayden Kelly *

Koryx King

Molly Koski *

Hermoine Lanfear *

Isaiah Maal

Jerrod Oberts *

Dex Rogers *

Anastasia Parkin *

Selena Payment *

Evelyn Wilcox *

Nevan Woodward *

Adarra Hagelund *^

* Middle College Student

^ Graduate participating in other ceremonies (Soldotna High School)

Dawn Edwards-Smith, principal at River City Academy, speaks at the graduation ceremony Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Dawn Edwards-Smith, principal at River City Academy, speaks at the graduation ceremony Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Dawn Edwards-Smith, principal at River City Academy, awards a diploma to Krystyana Kalugin on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside of Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Dawn Edwards-Smith, principal at River City Academy, awards a diploma to Krystyana Kalugin on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside of Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Justin Hansen, salutatorian at River City Academy, speaks at graduation ceremonies Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Justin Hansen, salutatorian at River City Academy, speaks at graduation ceremonies Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Dawn Edwards-Smith and Tad DeGray, two original staff members at River City Academy who are retiring, pause to look back at graduation ceremonies after taking a walk into the sunset Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside of Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Dawn Edwards-Smith and Tad DeGray, two original staff members at River City Academy who are retiring, pause to look back at graduation ceremonies after taking a walk into the sunset Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside of Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Evelyn Wilcox, valedictorian at River City Academy, speaks during graduation ceremonies Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Evelyn Wilcox, valedictorian at River City Academy, speaks during graduation ceremonies Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside Skyview Middle School just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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