Tinei Schwenke sings the national anthem in front of the graduating class during Nikiski High School's commencement ceremony.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
When Aaron Bakk was little, he dreamed of soaring through the sky in an Air Force jet.
“Why?” asked Cody, Bakk’s little brother, who stood nearby poking Bakk in the leg.
“Because that’d be so cool!” he shouted.
A cake, that was eaten within minutes, was part of the festivities at the Nikiski High School graduation.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Bakk stood in the foyer of the Nikiski Middle-Senior High School gymnasium, garbed in the black gown and white stole of a recent graduate, receiving hugs of congratulations from family and friends.
“Graduation is amazing,” he said, fingering a lei of dollar bills and a string of assorted fun-sized candy bars hanging round his neck. “It feels wonderful,” he said.
After a summer of working at the Nikiski pool, Bakk, who admires the comedic antics of Martin Lawrence, is off to The School For Film and Television in New York City to pursue an acting career.
Bakk’s favorite high school memory is making new friends and hanging out with them.
“Your friends make your high school experience,” he said.
A posted sign informs Heather Penhale what side her tassel should be on, prior to the graduation ceremony at Nikiski High School.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
“I’ve been waiting for it since school started,” said Austin Wheeler of graduating. “I’m really excited.”
Towering over his friends at 6 feet 2 inches tall, Wheeler said his favorite memory is playing center at basketball road trips.
“When I did play,” he said.
Leaving Monday for a Las Vegas heavy equipment operating school, he plans to come back in nine weeks and join the operator’s union.
“My family’s been here and I love to live in Alaska,” he said. “And I like to snowmachine.”
“Oh my god it’s over,” Kenya Quinn exclaimed, standing in the white gown all the women wore. Though the reality of graduating still hadn’t sunk in, Quinn already knew it would be one of her favorite high school memories.
“I’m so proud of myself, I really did a good job,” she said.
She said while she wanted to be a dentist when she was younger, she has a few classes under her belt from Kenai Peninsula College and now plans to be a nurse.
“I’ll go out and explore and see what I can do,” she said.
Haley Ping’s mortarboard was framed in hot pink faux fur and read “New Mexico bound.”
“They have a good physical therapy program,” she said.
Though she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher as a child, Ping’s ultimate goal as an adult is owning her own physical therapy center in California. But, she said, she’ll never forget Nikiski.
“It’s a small town so you get to know everybody,” she said. “Everyone’s close.”
As a high school graduate, Holly Heazlett also is on her way to completing a course in nursing from the Kenai Workforce Development Center.
“I’m going to be a CNA (certified nurse’s assistant),” she said. “I like to help people.”
Though she’s excited about graduating, Heazlett will miss hanging out with her friends at lunch.
Jason Moore plans to leave Alaska for warmer locales as he learns collision repair at the University of California Irvine.
“My parents wanted to see me graduate,” he said, adding that he didn’t really care for much of the ceremony.
With his favorite memory being dodgeball during PE, he said if he could have a superpower he’d pick strength.
“I need more of that,” he said.
Steven Hyatt played right defense hockey during his senior year and remembers catching a puck with the inside of his left leg. Also surrounded by family and friends, his grandmother came up to give him a hug while his father tried to take a picture.
“(Graduation) feels great,” he said. “Freer.”
With his father the battalion chief with the Nikiski Fire Department, Hyatt said he dreamed of being a firefighter as a kid.
“I wanted to do what my dad does,” he said.
Hyatt plans to be an electrician and said that if he could be any superhero, he’d be Superman.
“’Cause I could do anything,” he said.
After the graduation ceremony, Heather Penhale expressed a sense of relief.
“(Graduating) took a lot of studying and help from friends,” she said.
A lover of lyrical dance, Penhale plans to leave Alaska for Corona, Calif., to join the musical dance group Young Americans.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
Clare Bennett is the daughter of Robin and Tom Bennett. She has been a part of the National Honor Society, debate team, student council, varsity soccer and varsity volleyball team. Junior year she spent six months studying in Austria through AFS International. She will attend Stanford University in September, pursuing a degree in political science and Russian, hoping thereafter to attend journalism school.
Nikiski High School class of 2007
Julia LeeAnne Baker
Aaron Anthony Bakk
Clare Corthella Bennett
Kara Michelle Bethune
Jessica Danielle Bowlin
Hannah Marie Burnett
Robert Jacob Ray Burns
Rebecca Ann Carlson
Sara Elizabeth Christensen
Kimberly Jane Copeland
Chelsey Dawn Dorman
Kenneth Alvin Fagan
Samantha Jo Foell
Donna Jean Handley
Kimberly Grace Harbick
Shane Michael Hardesty
Abby May Harvey
Holly Lynn Heazlett
Steven Craig Hyatt
Florence Allyce Jorgensen
Kyla Jane’e Jorgensen
Jordan Christopher Kernan
Adora Kathryn Lee
Joshuah Robert Love
Alexis Anne Mellberg
Jason Alva Moore
Kira Dare Nickel
Tyler Kinley Payment
Heather Lucky Penhale
Haley Marie Ping
Michael Dale Poulter
Shayna Marie Pritchard
Sherra Ann Pritchard
Kenya Laura Quinn
Joel Nathan Ribbens
Kathleen Grace Russell
Christy Lynn Sacaloff
Tinei Rose Schwenke
Corey Lee Smith
Aaron Franklin Sterling
Hannah Ruth Thompson
Ryanna Jean Thurman
Jeffrey James Tuttle
Christy Mechelle Weaver
Austin James Wheeler
Nicholas Barron Whitaker
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