UAF commencement recognizes educational achievement
Inside Old St. Joe’s there was standing room only as the 42nd Annual Commencement of the Northwest Campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks went underway on Thursday, May 10. The conferring of degrees, certificates and occupational endorsements for about 40 students showcased the contribution the College of Rural and Community Development makes to Nome and to the villages of the region. Kawerak partners with the rural campus and provides educational services for adult basic education, early childhood education, vocational training, Alaska Native language instruction and scholarships.
Ahne Schield sang the Star Spangled Banner to start the proceedings, followed by an invocation by Pastor Harvey Fiskeaux. Greetings to the crowd came from Luisa Machuca, Chair of the Northwest Campus Advisory Council, and Kawerak’s President and CEO Melanie Bahnke,.
Keynote speaker Evon Peter, Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community and Rural Education at UAF, spoke first in Gwich’in to introduce himself and then in English. He described his educational beginnings as a 16-year-old high school dropout with a Mohawk hairdo to his most recent degree 23 years later. “I started like many of you here, first getting my GED,” he said. “Every step that each one of you accomplished today is a significant step for you and your family and the communities here. I hope that you continue on like all of your ancestors before you,” Peter said.
Next up was Ron Huffman, who directs Kawerak’s Adult Basic Education program. He thanked NSEDC for funding the program and making it possible for the GED students to come into Nome from the villages to take the official GED test. The ABE staff also is able to travel to the village sites thanks to the funding. “This is a very tough test,” said Huffman. “These young folks have earned their GED diploma by passing all phases of the test.”
The fifteen GED students were invited to stand for recognition.
“I would like to remind you that your GED is not the end in your endeavors for education,” said Huffman. “It’s only the beginning. And use this as a stepping stone. Press on forward. Take advantage of the opportunities that are out there which you’ve opened the door for once you’ve got your GED credential. Kawerak is here to assist you in scholarships if you chose to go on to college, or get vocational training.”
A memorial A.A. degree was awarded to Rachel Olson. Campus director Bob Metcalf read a joint letter from Senator Donny Olson and Representative Neal Foster. Her husband accepted the award on her behalf.
Next up were the occupational endorsements with nine students standing for their diplomas. Norton Sound Health Corporation backed all of the recipients, who now have the knowledge and training to be immediately employable. The endorsements were awarded for facility maintenance and for certified nurses aides. NSHC CEO Angie Gorn congratulated the recipients.
Sonja Simpson and Nicole Topkok were presented with their community health aide certificates by Lucy Apatiki. “The Norton Sound Health Corporation Training Center is one of four job training centers in the state,” said Apatiki. “The health aides are taught knowledge and skills they will need to care for patients in their communities. Being a health aid practitioner is not an easy job and I believe it takes a very special person to become one. It’s very demanding. Many times you respond to emergencies which involve family members and close relatives.” Apatiki described how Sonja Simpson, who is from Elim, was encouraged to go back to her health aide job by her 100-year-old grandmother who said, “When someone is good at what they do in their work they should keep working to help others.” That motivated Simpson to finish her certificate.
The Nugget asked NSHC CEO Angie Gorn how much the educational achievements noted at the commencement affect NSHC.
“At least sixteen of the graduates work for us already,” she replied. “They’re furthering their education. This is extremely valuable. The majority of the people who graduated here tonight work for Norton Sound Health Corporation.”
The theme of lifetime continuing education was heard frequently during the proceedings. Many of the students completed programs, which for reasons of family or other commitments, had been left unfinished. And many expressed a determination to advance to the next step in their education.
“So in closing, on behalf of the staff and faculty of Northwest Campus, and Kawerak ABE thank you for supporting the educational pursuits of family, friends, and those in our communities,” said Bob Metcalf. “Striving to grow a knowledge, whether the learning is academic, vocational, all enrich our communities, our region and indeed our state.”
Ahne Schield led the Nome-Beltz High School Choir in the Alaska Flag Song, the UAF photographer organized the students into groups for their official photo, and some excellent cake was served.
Rebecca Atchak A.A. General Program; Ashley Crowe A.A.S. Early Childhood Education; Brenda Henry A.A.S. Early Childhood Education; Karla Nayokpuk A.A.S. Human Services with Rural Human Services Certificate; Rachel Olson A.A. In Memoriam; Beda Prentice A.A.S. Human Services with Rural Human Services Certificate.
Daborah Anungazuk Cert. High Latitude Range Management; Toby Anungazuk Cert. High Latitude Range Management; Sonja Simpson Cert. Community Health; Nicole Topkok Cert. Community Health.
Joseph Akaran O.E. Facility Maintenance; Lonny Booshu O.E. Facility Maintenance; Eyrene Ivanoff O.E. Certified Nurse Aide; Kallie King O.E. Certified Nurse Aide’ Deanne Komonaseak O.E. Certified Nurse Aide; Alfred Ningeulook O.E. Facility Maintenance; Rebecca Pikonganna O.E. Certified Nurse Aide; Shane Saccheus O.E. Facility Maintenance,; Sharosha Tocktoo O.E. Facility Maintenance.
General Education Diploma
Thelma Ahkvaluk, Dustin Evans, Renee Gandia, Cristopher Gould, Larrisha Johnson, David O’Connor, Francis Rochon, Keven Rodgers, Ashley Thomas, Evelyn West, all of Nome. Brandi Nayokpuk of Shishmaref, Alicia Niksik and Adeline Pete of Stebbins, Bradley Okpealuk of Teller and Timothy Slwooko of Gambell.