The Kenai Peninsula College system awarded 131 associates degrees, 14 certificates, 2 occupational endorsements and more than 100 GEDs in 2012 along with several other University of Alaska degrees.
At the KPC Kenai River Campus graduation May 15, at Kenai Central High School, speakers addressed a mixed bag of graduates including GED graduates and college students with a nearly uniform message of grabbing what the future holds, embracing change and making the most of life.
Linda Swarner, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and KPC alumna, told the crowd that if she could get a master's degree at 60 they could do anything.
"My hope for all you graduates, family, friends, is that you wake up one morning and say 'I did this' rather than "Oh, I'm to old to change professions, job positions or finish that degree," Swarner said. "You might even live to be 100 and if you're 50 now, think of all that time you could use new knowledge and skills."
Tamara Larson, of Nikiski, walked into the high school with a huge bouquet of flowers, waiting to celebrate the non-traditional graduation of Shannon Biamonte, another Nikiski resident and mother of five who completed her degree with a 4.0 grade point average.
"She's getting ready to go into the nursing program," Larson said. "We're just really proud that she can do that and have a family and be so ambitious and have such good grades."
Patrick Gamble, president of the University of Alaska, spoke about unfinished business and told students they wouldn't be graduating if it weren't for the help and support of the community.
"You've got a community here, if you turn around and look behind you to your families and friends, you see an entire community, there's an entire state, there's an entire state legislature, they are all with you on this day," Gamble said.
Jesse Swain, student and student activities coordinator at KPC, stood outside of the double doors at the entrance to the auditorium passing flowers out to graduates as they streamed out of the ceremony.
He said it was his first time assisting with a commencement and he was encouraged by both what he saw, but the campus in general.
"My only other academic training was at the University of Idaho and I was in a classroom of 200. My teacher was on a TV screen above the podium. It was kind of impersonal and it wasn't exactly what I wanted so I came back to Alaska," he said. "It"s a great college, it's a little small and a little limited on its degree plans but, honestly, it's really nice to have a class of four instead of 31 or 32 people."
A large portion of the graduates who walked were GED students and Brandi Kerley, of Soldotna, an anthropology lab assistant who spent a lot of time coordinating the graduates, said she had noticed a pattern in the six years she had been helping with the graduation.
"They place an emphasis on the GED program and allowing the GED graduates to walk with the college degrees and what I've noticed from year to year is that the graduates from the GED program later become the graduates from the college degree program," Kerley said. "So it's a continuation of the education line. They're continuously reinforced and supported and they come back. It validates their achievement in the end because it's not just 'oh you got your GED,' it's 'you got your GED, you get your cap and your gown and you get to walk.' You actually achieved something."
Kay Perletti wandered around the reception being photographed with several people by her brother Jonas Perletti.
She said she wasn't sure what she wanted to do when she began attending KPC but figured out a career path quickly after falling in love with psychology during her first year.
"My goal is to get a bachelor's in Psychology and pursue maybe a premed," she said. "I want to become a neuropsychologist."
Perletti said she was headed to the University of Nevada Las Vegas in the fall and was excited to continue her studies, but for now, she's just ecstatic to have graduated.
She said when she graduated from Skyview, she thought about going to a larger university, but didn't feel it was a good choice at that time and was glad she had chosen to stay in this community.
"You can go to Harvard, you can go to Stanford, what we have here is like nothing else," she said. "People care about you, wanting you to succeed and they're helping you and that's amazing. They actually care about you. You don't see that on a big campus."