Humor characterizes Sohi 2014 class

The Soldotna High School class of 2014 had one more good-natured prank for their Principal Todd Syverson at their graduation ceremony at the Regional Sports Complex Wednesday.


Salutatorian Makayla Wong said the first student to walk up and shake Mr. Syverson’s hand handed him a marble and said, ‘We know you lost your marbles with this class so here are all your marbles back.’ By the time the last graduate crossed the stage, Syverson had been given 95 marbles.

“They were having some fun with me,” he said. “They thought it would be a good prank on the principal and I enjoyed it. They were not a stressful class at all. We had a great year and a great send-off.”

The commencement ceremony featured musical performances from Wong and fellow graduate Taylor Walkden and speeches from co-valedictorians Julie Litchfield and Gabrielle Saldivar among other presentations as students reflected on a memorable senior year.

Saldivar thanked all her peers and teachers for tolerating her in class and gave sage advice as graduates begin their next chapter in life.

“The meaning of success is being happy with who you are,” she said.

“None of your best days should be in high school. They should be ahead of you.”

Soldotna High History teacher Megan Murphy described the 2014 class as a humorous bunch who loved to laugh and have fun but can also buckle down and accomplish greatness. She said Saldivar, who took her government and Alaska studies class, is just as opinionated at she said she was in her speech.

“She can hold her own in a debate,” Murphy said. “That girl is going to be the next president. She is very intelligent. It will be interesting to see where these kids end up. They have lots of potential.”

With high school now in his rear view mirror, graduate Malyq McElroy reflected on the third day of his freshman year when he fainted in biology class, a move that altered his potential career path.

“I cannot handle blood,” he said. “I fainted a lot in science. So I switched to physics.”

McElroy said he has been offered a full-ride scholarship to Cal Poly Pomona University in Pomona, California to study chemical engineering. He was humble about his academic accomplishments, which included National Honor Society, 10 years in swing choir and was a sprinter for the track and field team, among others. His grandmother Diane Ireland, who raised him since he was 9 after the death of his mother, did not hold back her pride.

McElroy cut out pictures of his mother and put them on his cap.

“He has accomplished so much,” Ireland said. “He is an excellent student and ended up a science kid. My daughter was here with us tonight.”

Mary Valenzuela, who will attend the University of Alaska Anchorage in the fall, said she is excited and nervous about starting out as a freshman again. She plans to major in civil engineering and minor in chemistry.

Wong’s family adorned her with candy leis, flower leis and money leis to wear around her neck, which she said is a Polynesian tradition to give leis after graduation. She is also pursuing a degree in chemical engineering and will attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

“I love science math and chemistry and thought it was a perfect fit,” Wong said.

Kylie Dimick, who is graduating a year early, said she has mixed bittersweet emotions about her high school days coming to a close. She was involved in the music and drama program and participated in swing choir. She said she is headed to Boise State and will major in theatre and minor in dance.

“I will miss all my friends, but so much more is ahead. It’s exciting,” she said.

The Soldotna High class of 2014 is graduating a large number from their state champion football team including All State quarterback Colton Young and All State wide receiver Tyler Howell, who transferred from Skyview High School for his senior year.

“I finally got that ring,” Howell said, pointing to his state championship ring. “It was a fun ride.”

Howell will continue playing football at Ridgewater College in Willman, Minnesota. He said despite moving to the Lower 48, he will feel right at home during the winter months as he plans to receive a Physical Education degree.

Heather Swanson, Soldotna High English teacher, was the keynote speaker. She asked the graduates for one final assignment, to write an essay from their heart with the topic laughter. She recalled the day when one freshman, Jory Hubbard, hopped out of her class window –the only time she laughed that day.

“Laugh as often as you can,” she said.

Svyerson said the 2014 class, his ninth as Soldotna High principal, is a special, well-balanced group with kids talented in a variety of disciplines from music, arts, athletics and academics. With Soldotna and Skyview merging in the next school year, he said the next class is expected to be about 200 students.

“We are hearing good things about next year’s (class),” he said. “I’m sad to see this group leave, but we have a great class behind them to take over.”


Reach Dan Balmer at


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