The two Soldotna High School staff members that the graduating class of 2015 chose to deliver keynote speeches during their Tuesday graduation ceremony at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex were head custodian Lance Roberts and distance education teacher Lisa Thomas. Approximately 184 students listened to their speeches.
Thomas spoke of her own academic difficulties and of how those difficulties ultimately lead her to her present life. Thomas said that flunking her first year of college prompted her to change her major to geology, a choice that launched her career. That summer she also discovered bicycling. Thomas, a breast cancer survivor, bicycled 470 miles across Iowa in 2007 during an event sponsored by cancer charity Team LIVESTRONG.
“Rather than bore you with my actual struggles, I’d like to compare my cycling journey with my life journey,” Thomas said. “Both contain things that I’ve used to build my set of skills.” She compared the persistence and effort required to cycle over hills to the qualities necessary to succeed in life.
Roberts also said that his varied experiences — he has been a heavy equipment operator, oil field worker, truck driver, and carpenter — had prepared him to enjoy life.
“If someone told me 36 years ago I’d be a head custodian, let alone standing on this stage, well, I can tell you I’d have lost a lot of money on that bet,” he said. “But I can tell you one thing. Dreams come true. Because I love this job.”
Roberts told the students that the pleasantness of daily life was a matter of attitude.
“Sometimes I have to do some not-so-pleasant things,” Roberts said, referring to his occasional duty of unplugging clogged toilets. “Ironically, I remember my grandfather told me when I was very little: ‘I don’t care what you do grandson. Do it to the best of your ability. I don’t care if it’s cleaning a toilet.’”
The ceremony ended with confetti and a hat-toss, after which the graduates talked and took photos with their friends and family members on the floor of the sports complex. Graduate Megan English said she was glad to be done.
“It was certainly longer than normal, but it was worth it,” English said. “It was a really good graduation ceremony, and I think we represented the schools really well.” The schools she referred to were Soldotna and Skyview High Schools, which were reconfigured this year by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, making Skyview into a middle school and sending its high school students to Soldotna.
After a senior year that she called “hectic” and “bittersweet,” English plans to study chemical engineering at Montana State University.
“Afterwards, I’d like to probably move on and get a Master’s, and go into biofuel research and development,” English said.
Graduate Ruth Anne Murdock said the highlight of her senior year was the logo she created for the senior class sweatshirts, which commemorated the merger of Skyview and Soldotna high schools by superimposing a paw-print on a star.
“Because Skyview’s mascot is the panthers,” Murdock said, “and the star is SoHi.”
Murdock wants to enter Kenai Peninsula College in the spring semester to study digital photography.
Graduate Clayton Longfellow, who plans to become an apprentice electrician this summer, also referred to the merger of the schools, which he said had been expected to produce rivalry and fighting. He said the highlight of his senior year was “probably the hockey team, and how everybody got along without being murdered.”
“I just didn’t think it was going to be as nice and as easy as it was,” Longfellow said. “A lot of people were like ‘uh, this isn’t going to go well,’ but it went pretty good.”
Graduates Kaitlynn Boyer, Courtney Barker, and Tyann Reed each plan to continue their educations through schooling or experience. Boyer intends to study dental hygiene, and Reed to earn a psychology degree. Barker said she would “travel the world for a bit.”
“I want to go to Peru,” Barker said. “Because I want to see Machu Pichu.”
Each of the three said they will want to return to the Kenai Peninsula.
“It’s beautiful,” Reed said. “It’s too beautiful to leave.”
Barker interjected. “We want to fish. Fishing is life.”
“We want to give back to the community,” Boyer said.
“Yeah,” Reed said. “We want to raise our children here. Raise our children in the same community we were raised.”
“And go to SoHi,” Boyer said.
“Yeah, go to SoHi,” Barker said. “The kids will go to SoHi. All the children. Go to SoHi.”
When asked to describe her senior year, Barker said it was “a good time.”
“A lot of fun,” she said. “Way better than we deserved. It was one hell of a crazy ride.”
Graduate Klayton Justice, standing nearby, broke into the conversation to give a quote of his own.
“Oh, I got one,” Justice said. “’All the years of hard work have finally paid off.’ You like that one?”
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org