With the words of Theodore Roosevelt under one arm and the lyrics of a song written specifically for them under the other, Ninilchik School’s 2011 graduates bid their high school years good-bye at commencement exercises Wednesday, May 25.
Reminding them of the importance of continuing their education, the class chose for their motto, “A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education he may steal the whole railroad.” The advice comes from Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the 26th president of the United States.
Commencement speaker and Ninilchik teacher Katie Fjelstad recalled how her mother had likened graduation to a snake shedding its skin.
“When you leave this auditorium tonight, you leave with the supple new skin of tomorrow,” Fjelstad told the 12 graduates, drawing on her mother’s parallels.
Picking up her guitar, Fjelstad delivered her own words of encouragement by singing, “Fortress,” a song she’d written for the graduating class.
“Live the life that you wanted. Don’t do it any other way. Use your will to make it happen. Don’t let time run out on you,” Fjelstad sang.
Earlier this spring, students showed their support of Fjelstad when they heard through the grapevine t hat her teaching position was going to be eliminated for the 2011-2012 school year due to declining enrollment in Ninilchik. They made their disapproval known by lining up along the Sterling Highway in front of the school and waving “Save Kate” signs.
Although a position was cut, it wasn’t Fjelstad’s.
Noting that 2011 marks the 100th year Ninilchik School has been in existence, Michelle Bartolowits, class salutatorian, said her family has been represented in the school for at least 53 of those years. Counting preschool and kindergarten, she had been there for the past 14.
“And after 14 years, I’m excited about experiencing school in a different atmosphere,” she said.
Among the many scholarships awarded were three from Project GRAD, each one worth $1,000 a year for up to four years to be used at a college, technical or trade school. The scholarships were given by Jane Beck of Project GRAD and Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, to Stephen Boone, Scott Goins and Cayla Rogers. Rogers also received the UA Scholars award. Given to the top 10 percent of students in each qualified high school graduating class, it is a four-year, $11,000 scholarship that can be used at any University of Alaska campus.
The commencement ceremony also marked the end of Principal Terry Martin’s 10 years with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Martin, who is from Oregon, spent his first three years with the district as principal at Nikolaevsk School and the last seven at Ninilchik. In February, he announced his resignation.
“Work hard and challenge yourself,” was Martin’s parting advice to students.
Seated in the commencement exercise audience was Jeffrey Ambrosier, who has been hired by the district to be Ninilchik principal for the 2011-2012 school year. Ambrosier comes to Ninilchik from Aleknagik North Shore School, a K-8 school in the Southwest Region School District, where he has served as teacher-principal.
“I think it’s important to not only be there to see the community as they go through (commencement), but also to get a feel for how they go about it,” Ambrosier said in an interview with the Homer News earlier this month.
He also had words of wisdom to offer students.
“Be true to yourself and good to others,” Ambrosier said.
Not all the advice given was for the graduates. Valedictorian Cayla Rogers, who has attended Ninilchik School since she was in the second grade, had a message for next year’s seniors.
“Be your best at everything. If you don’t, you’ll regret it later on,” she said.
Graduating senior Byron Erik Barber gave more specific advice.
“Shower a lot and cut your hair,” he said.