"I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail."
-- Muriel Strode
The motto chosen by Ninilchik School's Class of 2000 focused on the students' transition from familiar to unfamiliar at Sunday's graduation ceremony.
It also provided focus for the teachers and parents saying goodbye to the graduating class.
Valedictorian Theresa Chihuly, who will attend the University Alaska Fairbanks this fall, selected her comments to fit the motto.
"We have the power to make our futures what we want them to be," Chihuly said. "Education is a lifelong process. It isn't finished just because we're seniors.
"Our future is in our hands," Chihuly said, paraphrasing Winston Churchill. "Our lives are what we choose to make of them."
Like many of her classmates, Chihuly's 12 years of education have been in Ninilchik.
"I have so many good memories," she said. "I can remember back to my kindergarten days -- second grade -- sixth grade. I've been with these kids through all the grades here."
English teacher Penny Vadla was selected by the class to give the commencement address.
"We chose Vadla because we wanted someone who knew the class and could reminisce with us," Chihuly said.
Vadla presented each student with a velvet bag containing items to help them remember who they are, where they came from and who they want to become.
"I went down to the beach and gathered sand and rocks and dreams (to put in the bags)," Vadla said. "I reminded the students that the most important thing was to remember who it is they want to become so they can come back to their place of origin and give back what's been given to them."
Vadla also is involved in teaching communication, photography, drama and coaching cross-country skiing and track. She was one of five Kenai Peninsula instructors recently nominated for the BP Teacher of Excellence award.
"It was an honor to be selected as the commencement speaker," Vadla said. "I guess I realize how much of an impact (teachers) make on these kids.
"I thanked each one of them and their parents for entrusting them to me."
In keeping with a tradition started in Ninilchik years ago, seniors included parents and grandparents in Sunday's ceremony by honoring them with roses.
Senior Tasha Leman's parents said having the first of their three children graduate from high school wasn't easy.
"This is a tough one," said Dan Leman, who coaches Ninilchik's girls basketball team.
Tasha was co-captain on the team for the past two years and will be attending Southwestern Community College in Coos Bay, Ore., this fall.
"I'm really proud of her," Leman said. "I'm definitely going to miss her next year. She's a real leader."
Tasha's mother, Jamie Leman, also had mixed emotions.
"I feel very, very proud and happy and kind of sad at the same time because she's going to college next year," she said. "I'm really proud of what she did during high school -- academics, athletics -- she's just a great kid."
Rich Redmond, counselor at Ninilchik School, helped graduates prepare for their future in his guidance class where students applied to schools and for scholarships. The planning paid off. Twenty-five scholarships and awards were received from local and corporate sponsors and will go a long way toward helping the seniors blaze their own trails.
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