When Ariane Jasmin started at Kenai Peninsula College, she wanted to prove to herself that she could finish her associate degree.
On Thursday — after two years of juggling a two-hour commute, two preschool-aged children and a dog mushing team — Jasmin not only finished her degree, but graduated as the school’s valedictorian.
“My biggest highlight from KPC I think is just showing myself that I could (graduate),” Jasmin said.
Jasmin was one of 150 graduates who walked across the stage Thursday night at the Kenai Peninsula College 49th Kenai River Campus commencement ceremony at the Kenai Central High School Renee C. Henderson Auditorium.
The 150 graduates collected degrees ranging from associate in process technology to bachelor’s in elementary education.
The commencement keynote speaker was Janet LaRue Romig, a practicing attorney who got her start at KPC 40 years ago. University of Alaska Board of Regents member Lisa Parker and University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen also participated in the graduation ceremony.
Jasmin graduated summa cum laude, which means she managed to maintain a 4.0-grade point average. She said she will be moving to Fairbanks to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with hopes of eventually attending medical school.
“I’ve wanted to (go to college) for a long time and just didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, or get into debt without knowing what I wanted to do,” Jasmin said. “I decided I wanted to go into biology. The associate’s of arts (degree) is a stepping stone.”
Jasmin said she has faced all kinds of challenges on the path to graduation. Her family lives in an off-grid home in Clam Gulch, making her commute to school about two hours.
“With having to drive around town to drop the kids off to daycare, and drive all the way around to the college, it’s about two hours,” Jasmin said. “My husband and I are dog mushers, so my husband leaves sometimes for long periods of time. I take care of the dogs, the kids and everything, and take a full load of classes at the same time.”
Like many of the students at KPC, Jasmin said she took advantage of online classes.
“There’s a lot of people taking online classes, so I didn’t get to hang out with a lot of the students,” Jasmin said. “A lot of the people here (at commencement) — this is the first time I’ve seen them because we’re kind of on our own.”
For Summer Stockman, the convenience of online classes was one of her favorite parts about attending KPC. She graduated with an Associate of Arts degree Thursday night and is now the only member of her family with a college degree.
“I could go home after work and hammer it out,” Stockman said.
She said her biggest challenge while attending KPC was trying to take classes while working full time.
“I look at a computer every day for work, so coming home after work, I didn’t want to look at a computer anymore,” Stockman said.
Tammy Grimes, who graduated with an Associate of Arts degree, also worked full time while working on her degree.
“I started when my son was three years old, and he’s now 12,” Grimes said. “It’s taken me a while to get my associate’s, but my BA is going to be next.
Grimes said she has five more semesters left until she has a bachelor’s degree, and then she can pursue her dream of becoming a teacher.
Nathaniel Yannikos, who graduated with an Associate of Arts degree as well, said he doesn’t know what the future holds for him yet.
“I’ll just have to see when I get there,” Yannikos said.
He said he hopes to continue college and work toward a bachelor’s degree in art, and possibly work in video game design.
Kenai Peninsula College, which is part of the University of Alaska Anchorage system, is the largest campus on the Kenai Peninsula and has been offering educational opportunities to area students for the last 54 years.