CIA grads take first step of new journey

Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Five students who have spent most of their young lives together are now going their separate ways, after graduating Sunday from Cook Inlet Academy, the small Christian school on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

One student, Taryn Reese, spent her entire school career at CIA.

"It seems like yesterday I walked into the kindergarten classroom," Reese said in her graduation speech.

Like many of the students, Reese thanked her teachers and principal.

"I know you have sacrificed a lot to work at this school, and it means a lot to us," she said.

"They mean so much to me," she added later.

Teacher Mary White had most of the graduating class since fourth grade, and all of them later in junior high and high school.

"The memories are so poignant," she said after the ceremony. "Every time I see my students up there, it tickles my heart."

Graduate Conner Barry also talked about feelings during his address.

"All these people are so sad I'm leaving," he said. "But it's a happy thing."

Class salutatorian Ginni Russell agreed.

"Everybody is sad, but I'm not. I can't believe (graduation) is here," she said, adding later, "I'm ready to go, but don't get me wrong, this is a good environment. If I ever have kids, I'll send them here."

Russell had some pithy advice for the underclassmen in the audience.

"What I want to tell everyone who has not graduated yet, is that procrastination is bad," she said.

Russell was later presented with a $750 scholarship from Mike Nugent of Alaska Nitrogen Products in Nikiski.

But taking one's time was part of the message from featured commencement speaker Terry Bonner, the former youth pastor at a church one of the graduates. He talked about doors and windows of oppor-tunity.

"The decisions these students make in the next week, or month, or year will alter their lives," Bonner said. "We must make sure that what we say to them is encouraging and positive."

He also praised Cook Inlet Academy for its small size, saying that in a school with 500 graduates, five students would become lost.

Bonner talked about recognizing opportunity when it comes along. He related a story about a devout Christian man who asked for God's help when his home was being flooded. A boat, and then a helicopter come by to save the man, Bonner said, but the man refused them, saying God will save him. After the man drowns in the river, he goes to heaven and asks God why he didn't save him.

"God said, 'I sent a boat and a helicopter, but you refused them,'" Bonner said. "Sometimes we see opportunities as secular opportunities, but sometimes they're not. Opportunities are part of God's destiny for these five.

"God wants these five to succeed, but with the right attitude," he added. "In God's scheme of things, money is not as important as attitude."

In her graduation speech, Tabitha Hillyer talked about her feelings when she first started attending CIA.

"When I came here in junior high, I didn't think I'd like it, because I was used to something completely different," she said, her voice cracking. "I thought I could get all the way through this without getting all choked up."

She also said goodbye to students in preschool and the fifth grade who she helped teach.

"I'm dreading leaving here," she said. "Because when I come back, you're all going to be grown up."

In his speech, class valedictorian Noah Shields thanked all the mothers in the audience during the Mother's Day ceremony.

"I think graduating on Mother's Day is appropriate, so we can thank them for getting us here," Shields said. "I want to thank you for all the time you put into us."

He also had a few words for mothers whose children are still in school.

"To the mothers without kids graduating, who are freaking out because their kids are messing up, don't worry," he said. "Soon they'll be up here."

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