JC Wheeler – more commonly know as Jack – and Lynn Keogh, who goes by his middle name, Hunter, were the first two seniors to arrive at the school that would become their alma mater after receiving their diplomas that night.
Eight seniors graduated from Ninilchik High School on Monday night, and all eight will further their education at various colleges and universities. The small class has grown up together and grown closer throughout the years.
While walking to a second floor classroom where their gowns waited, Keogh teased Wheeler about his red Converse sneakers that gave a bright pop of color beneath his black trousers.
“It’s tradition,” Wheeler said.
“You just got them,” Keogh said laughing.
In the room, they sorted through the eight gowns that hung on the open doors of a tall cabinet. Four robes hung on the left door and four shorter robes hung on the right door.
After they zipped up their gowns, the two graduates put on their caps.
“It has to be flat,” Keogh said to Wheeler while he adjusted his own mortarboard.
They fiddled with their tassels that swung into their face whenever they moved.
Kaylee Smith, class valedictorian, arrived next. She’s staying in state for college, but one of her favorite memories from high school was junior year when some of the students toured Washington D.C. and New York City.
“We got to go and explore,” she said. “It’s a lot different than little Ninilchik.”
After putting on her cap and gown, she assisted Wheeler and Keogh untwist the gold 13 charms on their tassels. On her mortarboard, she had drawn wolverine paw prints to represent her school’s mascot. She also drew a tooth, toothbrush and toothpaste to represent her goal of becoming a pediatric dentist. Her first step the achieving that dream, however, is to get her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Keogh, who took extra classes to graduate a year early, will also attend UAF. He plans to study petroleum engineering.
“It’s nice to be done a year early,” he said. “I doubled up (classes) and shot through.”
Wheeler plans to attend University of Alaska Anchorage, but, as Kaylee said in her valedictorian speech, Wheeler changes his mind on what he wants to study often and has considered fields such as engineering and youth ministry.
Even though he’s not sure what career path to choose, Wheeler said it feels great to be graduating.
“After 14 years at Ninilchik, I’m ready to be done,” he said.
While he is eager to begin a new phase of his life outside of Ninilchik, Wheeler said he really enjoyed playing high school basketball.
“Being on a team and that whole situation was awesome,” he said.
The next two graduates to get dressed in their caps and gowns were Jayk Cooper and David Bear. Both also plan to attend UAA and hope to room together at the university. Cooper plans to study automotive technology and Bear is going into computer science.
Mirannda Monzulla and Jennifer Smith found their gowns in the classroom next.
Monzulla will attend Kenai Peninsula College to pursue a degree in nursing, but first, this June, she will become a certified nursing assistant.
Jennifer is the only graduate who will be moving out of state to further her schooling. She will be moving to South Carolina to study communication disorders at Bob Jones University. Jennifer said the university has a really good program for her major.
“I went to visit (the campus) last year and fell in love with it” Jennifer said. “I just kind of wanted to get out and thought it would be a nice change.”
Brianne Noble was the last graduate to arrive. She plans to pursue a degree in radiologic technology at the KPC Kachemak Bay Campus.
Noble said “It’s been a long road,” but has some happy memories of her high school career.
One of her favorite memories is how helpful her classmates, other students and faculty were after she had surgery.
“We’re like brothers and sisters,” Noble said about her classmates.
“They’re a great bunch of kids with diverse backgrounds,” principal Jeff Ambrosier said. “I’m excited and wish them the best of luck.”
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.