Kenai Alternative High School graduate Army Pvt. Josh Vanderzon is honored with a special G.I. Joe Award. A member of the Alaska National Guard, Vanderzon expects military deployment soon.
Photos by Phil Hermanek
With the nation involved in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was little wonder that soldiers in uniform attended the Kenai Alternative School graduation. In fact, one wore his Army dress uniform under his blue graduate’s gown.
“I’m here for Josh Vanderzon,” said Army Spc. Aaron Byrd. “We’re in the (Alaska National) Guard together.”
“I’ve known Josh about 10 years. He’s really a great guy,” Byrd said.
“If he didn’t graduate, he would’ve been discharged (from the Army),” Byrd said.
Five-year-old Lucas DeMars is all set to cheer on his baby sitter, Ashlee Sylvester, a Kenai Alternative School graduate. Lucas attended the Thursday ceremony with his mom, Amber DeMars.
Wearing his Army uniform beneath his Kenai Alternative High School graduation gown, Pvt. Josh Vanderzon said he joined the Army because “it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
The fear of being discharged from the Army if he did not graduate was motivation for Vanderzon to earn his diploma, but he said “just graduating was motivation.”
The Kenai unit of the Alaska National Guard of which Vanderzon is a member, is to deploy soon, but because of security reasons he cannot say when or where.
He said he has no fears.
“I joined for the adventure.”
When asked what his plans are following his three-year Army enlistment, Vanderzon said, “If I enjoy what’s comin’ up, I’m gonna stick with it.”
Before he was overruled by staff, Daniel Rust planned to wear this fuzzy green creation atop his Kenai Alternative graduation mortarboard.
Zac Aragon of Soldotna was not planning to attend his graduation from Kenai Alternative High School because he didn’t think anyone would be there for him.
Was he ever surprised, said his soon-to-be stepmother Melanee Stevens.
“Five of us came over from Seward, including his grandmother,” said Stevens, who is planning to wed Aragon’s dad soon.
“We’re so proud of him.
“Zac went to Skyview and then SoHi, and he’s been here since January. He was having a hard time with the work and needed some help,” Stevens said.
Winner of one of dozens of special graduate awards the I Think I Can Award Aragon received a toy motorcycle “to go uphill,” according to school secretary, Phyllis Halstead.
Stevens said Aragon wants to go into professional motocross racing and attend the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“He races for the Kenai Racing Lions,” she said.
“Sometimes it would be hard. She’d get hungry or cranky and she’d cry,” said graduate Jessica Edelen about her nearly 1-year-old daughter, Kaite Lynn, who she brought to classes with her.
Edelen started high school at Nikiski High, but moved to Kenai Alternative almost two years ago.
About graduation, she said, “It’s cool, but I’m going to miss coming to school and seeing all my friends every day.”
Kaite Lynn probably will not remember the milestone event, but she was in the school gym as her mom walked up to receive her high school diploma.
Kaite Lynn’s dad, Aaron Sterling, is due to graduate from Nikiski High next year.
“I’m stoked,” said Daniel Rust about graduation.
“This is the best school in the whole (Kenai) Peninsula,” he said.
Donning a rather large, fluffy, light-green Mad Hatter hat atop his mortarboard until asked by a school official to remove it Rust said he is thinking about attending the Denver Automotive and Diesel College in Colorado following graduation.
Being only 5 years old, Lucas DeMars didn’t have much to say about the graduation ceremony that was about to start, but with a star-shaped mylar balloon and bunch of cut flowers in hand, he was all set to show support for Ashlee Sylvester, his baby sitter his whole life.
“Ashlee’s just a great kid,” said Lucas’ mother, Amber DeMars.
“We’ve know her for seven years. She’s a neighbor in Nikiski,” she said.
Charlene Sandifer started high school at Kenai Central but in her freshman year she realized it was not for her.
“She didn’t like it. She didn’t like the teachers ... the students. She wasn’t going,” said mom, Wendy Sandifer, during Charlene’s graduation from Kenai Alternative.
“She loved it here ... all the teachers, Phyllis (Halstead), Greg (Wilbanks), Tad (DeGray), Kevin (Harding),” Wendy said.
Friend Dan Aaronson said, “She really thrived here.”
That is apparently no empty boast as Charlene was named a University of Alaska Scholar for finishing in the top 10 percent of her graduating class. She plans to go to UAA.
“She wants to major in early childhood development and be a teacher, or in art and be a teacher,” Wendy said.
“Either way, she wants to teach.”
As has become the tradition at Kenai Alternative, each graduate was handed a single yellow rose when they came up for their diplomas.
At the end of the ceremony, they turned and handed their roses to the one person who was the most influential in helping them reach this day, whether a parent, friend, another relative or some other mentor.
Many roses went to Kenai Alternative teachers and counselors.
Kenai Alternative High School class of 2006
Suzanne Rene’ Ackerman
Bronson Graham Angleton
Zachariah Joe Aragon
Tyler Scott Bleazard
Dustin Michael Bumgarner
Michael Paul Busby
Sarah Elizabeth Campbell
Jessica Lynn Edelen
Michael Adrian Egholm
Emerald J. Ferguson
Christopher James Franklin
Miriah Pearl Gibson
Nathaniel William-Scott Hatten
Eugene Earl Hill
Shante’ L. J. Jackson
Vaughn Sylvester Johnson
Amanda Marie Kivi
Nathan Todd LeFevre
Elizabeth Anna Agnes Lovett
Teresa Nicole Madrid
Timothy Michael McGahan
Bridget Marie Middaugh
Jimmie Dean Miller
Kaylla Jeanette Miller
Melissa Marie Monsaas
Jackie Lynn Paul
Nicholas Ervin Price
Kayla Reanne Rouswell
Daniel John Rust
Charlene Ann Sandifer
Colleen June Smith
Charles Reece Snyder
Thomas Peter Stewart
Ashlee Marie Sylvester
Joshua Micheal Vanderzon
Cody Richard Villa
Nathan Daniel Yoncher
Paris Misty Young
Robbie Caye Zimmerman
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