The Cook Inlet Academy graduation concluded a little differently this year than in the past.
After Kiana Beddow asked the graduates to turn their tassels in the school’s gym on May 22, the graduates pulled out one more surprise: an uncommon graduation song.
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you” chorused the graduates and their guests after handing Tiana McGahan a cake.
Celebrating one classmate’s birthday as they honored the end of their high school endeavors together was just one indicator of a class that had been growing together since many members started preschool at the school.
Valdictorian Kelsey Brush said her favorite part of the graduation was the speech she helped deliver with Lauren Bauder and Michael Horton. All three had been at CIA since preschool.
“Just how we made it personal and were able to talk to our class,” she said.
Brush said the school’s design made it possible for her to get to know her classmates.
“The family atmosphere, small classes, small school, it really helped me get out of my bubble,” Brush said.
Chantilly Hilleman, a relative newcomer after just two-and-a-half years at CIA, agreed that the best part of the small school was the community, and the sense of togetherness.
“Everyone’s like a family,” Hilleman said. “It’s very nice.”
With just 18 graduates, the ceremony left time for more personalization than just the birthday song at the end. Just before they received their diplomas, those gathered took a minute to watch a visual reminiscence of the class of 2011.
Everyone watched a slideshow that incorporated baby photos, senior portraits, and candid and posed moments in between.
And at the end of the ceremony, guests moved around the perimeter of the gym, where each student had photos and memorabilia of their high school. The graduates clustered in small groups for photos, posing with garden gnomes, cross country medals and framed photos of their adventures together.
The graduation marked the end of a long string of adventures together, the graduates remarked.
“Everyday has its own adventures,” said Keven Powers. “Everyday we do something different, so they’re all good.”
Tyler Solis said his favorite adventures as a class were the pranks they pulled.
“Pouring water on people in classes, water balloon fights, stuff like that,” he said.
But despite the celebration of their time together, the graduates hadn’t forgotten why they were there.
Cole Davidson said the best part of the commencement was graduating.
“I don’t remember most of the ceremony, but getting my diploma,” Davidson said.
And most said they were excited that school was done.
Solis said he liked tossing his hat into the air.
“(It) feels good,” Solis said. “I don’t have to do anything else.”
“(There’s) no more stuff to turn in, more free time,” he said.
But he also had wisdom to share with the class of 2012.
“It’s a big one, you hear it everyday, but don’t slack,” he said. “It’ll bite you in the butt.”