The graduates at Kenai Peninsula College might have disagreed about the hardest part of their education as they prepared for their walk across the Kenai Central High School Stage on May 3. But they agreed, nearly unanimously, that the professors were one of the best parts.
“The faculty’s wonderful, the campus is wonderful,” said Jessie Ryan, 28, who graduated with her Associate of Arts degree.
John Stenglein, a 54-year-old who earned his Bachelor of Arts in Human Services, agreed.
“The teachers are really great,” Stenglein said. “(They’ve) got a lot of patience.”
Jody Hall, a 19-year-old from Sterling, said that patience helped her earn her GED this spring.
“Everyone at the learning center pitched in…I kind of got passed around to everybody.”
For Hall and her brother, 21-year-old Gene, the road to graduation started at home.
Jody wound up at KPC after Gene finished his GED.
“Once he told me he got his, I was like ‘it’s on,’” she said.
Gene said it was his parents who encouraged him to get the diploma.
“We have awesome parents,” Jody said.
In his remarks, University of Alaska President Patrick Gamble asked the students to remember the parents, friends and sweethearts who helped them make it to the stage that evening.
“Don’t forget what it was like to get the help,” Gamble told them. “Don’t forget what it was like to give the help.”
Gamble also reminded students of the lessons they should take away.
“I’m talking about the idea that you stand up against something tough and take it on,” Gamble said.
KPC Director Gary Turner told the students that they would be remembered for how they stood up and faced their challenges this year.
“This generation of students has the grit and determination of past generations even though some would paint them with a different brush,” Turner said.
For Dave Stewart, 42, the challenge at KPC was what wasn’t there. His family.
“The other hardest part was being away from my kids this long.”
Stewart, who studied instrumentation, said the distance was worth it. He has an internship lined up in Seattle but both he and his three kids, who spend their summers here, want to move back to the Peninsula eventually.
“We definitely want to make this place home,” he said.
Stenglein, who used to log in Southeast Alaska, faced a different challenge.
“The computer was the worst part, man,” Stenglein said. “Still is.”
He came to the central Peninsula because he had family in the area and the roads lead somewhere, and eventually he’d like to work with juveniles, or troubled youth. His internship at Serenity House helped him realize that.
But to get his degree, he had to learn the ins and outs of computers.
“I started with a little kid’s disc with a little ghost on it,” he said.
Not every graduate at the ceremony had attended classes at KPC.
Bonnie Phayle, 57, took online classes to earn her Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Management from University of Alaska Southeast. The whole time, she was living in Soldotna. The distance wasn’t a problem.
“The professors were always accessible,” she said.
Phayle said she already had a regular AA degree, which she earned in 1992, so she went back and added to it.
“Medical records is an up and going occupation,” she said.
Phayle was the only UAS graduate, but a handful of other graduates at the ceremony earned degrees from University of Alaska Anchorage.
At the end of the day, where they took their classes didn’t matter. What was more important was the lessons they learned along the way, said commencement speaker Jill Skidmore-Erickson.
“Persistence is critical,” she told the class of 2011. “Being creative and persistent is even better.”
And to hear Turner tell it, the class found both in their years at KPC, particularly as they devised a frog mascot to aid in their efforts to secure funding for the college.
And just what does a frog stand for?
“The ferociousness of the tiger with the restraint and congeniality of the rabbit,” Turner reminded them.