Nikiski Middle-High School

Standing in front of a row of lockers getting ready to proceed with the evening’s festivities, Caitlin Reid felt conflicted.


“It is pretty hard — I love everybody in my class,” said the 18-year-old Nikiski High School senior. “But, I know I need to go.”

Two hours later, Reid walked out of the school’s gymnasium a high school graduate on May 24. However, she wasn’t so sure of her feelings about the future after the ceremony.

“It is very difficult to explain,” she said as a friend ran into her arms crying. “Don’t cry, don’t cry.”

She briefly comforted the other graduate and sent her into the arms of another student only to repeat the same display of emotions.

Reid looked around at the rest of her graduating class as they swarmed the cafeteria, taking photos with family being congratulated on their achievement.

“It feels tumultuous,” she said.

Earlier, Reid took to the stage.

It wasn’t the first time the theater student did so, but the audience and mood was decidedly different. By her side was senior Tanner Thompson. The two share a love for theater — Thompson wants to be in film and Reid in musical theater.

They’ve been performing together since sixth grade. But, that night’s performance of Green Day’s “Good Riddance, (Time of Your Life),” with Reid singing and Thompson on the guitar, would be the pair’s last.

Reid is headed to the University of New Haven to pursue musical theater. Thompson is shipping off to become a Duck at the University of Oregon where he will study film and information science. If the first doesn’t work out, the latter would provide a “legitimate job,” Thompson said.

But, the graduation ceremony was a time for those graduates to reflect on their dreams and Thompson’s is to be on a sitcom.

“I love the cheesiness and the slapstick,” he said. “It is my favorite kind of performance, it’s what I love doing.”

Thompson’s advice for the younger students was to not take anything too seriously.

“Follow that and you’ll pretty much do OK,” he said. “I mean you’ve got to kind of figure stuff out for yourself because if you depend too much on everyone else, you’ll be let down because they want you to think for yourself.”

Reid said she was looking forward to the change. Her advice for younger students differed from Thompson’s.

“Work hard,” she said. “You’ll never be disappointed in yourself if you work as hard as you can.”

Much of the ceremony — the turning of the tassels and walking across the stage to receive his diploma — was “meaningless” to Thompson, he said.

“But what is really meaningful for me is hearing from the people that I’ve gone through high school with,” he said. “It’s a rite of passage, sure, but traditions aside, it is a really special time to congratulate each other, be nostalgic with each other and move on with your life.”

Wesley Smith, however, found great meaning in what Thompson shrugged, however.

“I kind of did it for my great grandpa … who didn’t make it through high school,” Smith said. “He is so proud that I made it though high school, his only great grandson and only great grandchild.

“Halfway through high school I kind of realized I am the last one so far and I really owe it to my family to graduate high school and eventually college.”

Smith’s great grandfather, who he said is a homesteader of the state, left high school for a military career, and eventually ran for governor of Alaska and mayor of Fairbanks.

“I mean he was really successful for not going through high school and if you can do that not going through high school, you know,” he said. “I mean I want to be a process technologist, but I could do anything — let’s put it that way.”

His great grandfather watched him walk the stage to receive his diploma.

“I think he was getting a little choked up,” Smith said. “That felt good. He came over to me and gave me a great big hug and said he was proud of me.”

Smith’s advice to the younger students was to “pay attention to the lessons that you learn going through high school.”

“Even if they seem to be not that important, they are important later,” he said. “You won’t realize it a week out of high school, but you’ll realize it later in life.”