Kenai Alternative High School

During their graduation ceremony on May 21, the seniors of Kenai Alternative High School all received awards -- the GQ award, the Betty Crocker Cooking Award and the Determination award, just to name a few.

Naomi McMullen received the My Bags Are Packed award. When she enrolled at Kenai Alternative, the 17-year-old only needed a couple of credits to finish her school career.

"She said, 'Tell me what to do, I want to move on with my life,'" said Kenai Alternative Principal Loren Reese.

McMullen was given a little blue backpack in addition to the title.

She said she is very excited to finish school and graduating always has been important to her. She hopes to enroll in a nursing program through Heritage Place Nursing Home in Anchorage.

"Hopefully, I'll enter the medical field," she said.

The road to success crystallized for Cierra Conklin, 17, shortly after enrolling at the alternative high school.

Conklin is registered to work as an accountant at Kenai Peninsula College and is excited to enter a work environment, she said.

"Now I get to have a career and not just work at McDonald's or Arby's," she said.

She received the light-hearted Sweet Tooth award, too.

"This student always had something sugary in her hand," Reese said.

Scholarships also were awarded to a handful of students, such as John Demeltia. He was one of four students to receive an eight-year, $10,000 scholarship awarded by the University of Alaska Anchorage. Those students were chosen for graduating in the top 10 percent of their class.

However, it's unclear as to whether Demeltia's scholarship will be put to use in the near future. His immediate plans involve enlisting with the United States Marines Corps.

He said most of the excitement of finishing high school already had worn off; he finished his schoolwork five months prior. The main reason he attended the graduation was to make his mom happy. She would've been hurt, as well as hurt him physically if he refused to go, he said.

He took the podium to thank his mom and the alternative staff before accepting his diploma.

Demeltia also received the Zoo Keeper award.

The school has a room it's dubbed the Bear Room, decorated by a previous principal and filled with "lots of dead animals."

During his time at Kenai Alternative, Demeltia argued many times with school staff while in the confines of the Bear Room. He often didn't waiver from his point of view, staff said. Thus, he was given a shirt with the words "I may not always be right, but I'm never wrong."

Other students received multiple tokens of recognition. Jane Brooks, who is the first in her family to graduate high school, received a flattering award for her efforts in gym class, the Ms. P.E. award; and a recognition award from a local business.

She said she is a bit apprehensive about the future, but plans to try her hardest to act as a role model for her five siblings.

"I want to do a foreign exchange program," she said. "My initial goal is to be a linguist. But I'm also interested in music and kids."

Reese said it brings joy into his life to work with a diverse group of kids.

"I love to work with these kids, who are from all facets of life," he said. "It gives me great pleasure to come in everyday and work with them."

He is proud of their determination to finish high school, he added.

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