Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between excitement and nervousness. The rush of adrenaline, the butterflies in the stomach; the two emotions are never mutually exclusive.
As the soon-to-be graduates of Soldotna High School prepared for their imminent departure from the insular world of high school to the real world of jobs and responsibility, they tried to reconcile their excitement and nerves. Some, however, couldn’t seem to articulate that odd feeling stirring within.
“I feel... I don’t really know,” said Chris Hallford, 18. “I feel like I conquered high school.”
Hallford paused again when asked if he was nervous; nervous about moving on, leaving the nest, confronting a world so much larger than high school, larger than Soldotna, than Alaska even. Again, he didn’t know.
It really hadn’t hit any of them yet. The teenagers gathered in a back room at the Soldotna Sport’s Center on Tuesday, May 24, chattering away with friends, preparing to walk out – don’t trip – in front of their camera-happy family members. They still have the summer to celebrate and be kids, and for many of them college will perpetuate the 12-year-old schedule that equates the month of August with the beginning of another school year.
Michelle Papp, for instance, is heading to Pocatello, Idaho, in the fall to pursue a degree in nursing at Idaho State University.
“When I was 10, I saw my sister being born,” Papp said, “and ever since I’ve wanted to be a pediatric nurse.”
Papp said, at this point, she doesn’t want to pursue obstetrics because it would take too long to complete medical school. Instead, she wants to finish her education, begin work, and start a family.
She said her favorite part of attending SoHi was when her biology class took a trip to the University of Alaska Anchorage to dissect a cadaver.
Ashlea Ansel, another 18-year-old graduate, voiced her intent to enroll at Kenai Peninsula College in nursing program. Several other students, all women, expressed their desire to pursue nursing as well.
Ansel said she was “excited and nervous” (go figure) about the whole graduating ordeal, but that she was “ready for it to be over.” Ansel’s best memories of high school include all of homecoming week; the football game, the dance, the activities, coordinating outfits for themed dress-up days.
IntiMayo Harbison said the camaraderie he experienced from participating in different sports will be sorely missed. Harbison, 18, played soccer and ran track in addition to participating in cross-country running and skiing. He said that one of the best parts of partaking in these extracurricular activities was “getting to hang out with people you normally wouldn’t” decide to be around.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Harbison said of graduating.
Harbison intends to begin his studies in diplomacy or international relations at the University of Alaska Fairbanks this fall.
More than 100 teenagers received their diplomas that Tuesday night at the Sports Center. An accomplishment, to be sure, but by no means a stopping point. High school graduation isn’t the apex of a bell curve; it’s a point on steep, sloping line.
For these kids, graduating from high school was an overwhelming bundle of nerves and excitement: a mix of anxiety, the fear of the unknown, eagerness, delight, nostalgia, triumph, and anticipation.
Real life, in a nutshell.