2022 UAF KuC Commencement

by Lucy Peloso and Katie Rearden

Ann Marie Tinker of Kasigluk walks down the aisle during the KuC Commencement recessional wearing her native regalia nasqerrun – a ladies Eskimo dance headdress. She graduated with a B.A. in Elementary Education. photo by Kelly J. Lincoln

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) College of Rural and Community Development (CRCD) Kuskokwim Campus (KuC) held its forty-eighth commencement ceremony on Friday, April 29, 2022, at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center. The afternoon ceremony honored 33 students who achieved certificates, degrees, and awards: three Occupational Endorsements, eight Certificates, 14 Associate Degrees, six Baccalaureate Degrees, one Master’s Degree, and one Honorary PhD. were recognized for 2022.

KuC Director, Carolyn Goolsby, introduced Pastor Robert (Bob) White and Rachelle White to begin the ceremony with the invocation. Then she introduced the keynote speaker, Ben Kuntz, KuC Associate Professor of English who remembered thought provoking works of literature and a poem he read many years ago at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center. The following work stuck out in his mind:

“I am a boy who loves to hunt. I wonder what it feels like to be shot.” -Lower Kuskokwim School District 2nd grade student.

Ben said that he assigned many students to give speeches, and now they can feel satisfaction in watching him give one. As a first writing assignment for his classes, Ben asks students to write about their role models. Most of the students write about family, particularly grandparents and sometimes parents. Ben asked everyone to take a moment to acknowledge all the grandparents and parents, and then all the other members of the family and friends of graduates, in order to honor the impact of the support our families and friends provide in our college journeys.

Ben said he never attended one of his own commencements, but he has grown to love KuC commencements. He feels bothered by the idea that education is finished on a certain day. It truly never ends. He has always felt different and wondered what it feels like to belong. He has learned a sense of belonging here. Flipping tassels might be silly but it does mean something. He always tells his students, endings are hard (talking about conclusions in writing).

His last keynote speech was a remix of a best man’s speech and this one. He considered doing his speech based on the “birthday line” from KYUK, so he decided to end by saying congratulations on this graduation and may there be many more.

Director Goolsby introduced the student speakers. She began with Lucy Jayne Martin, Associate’s degree speaker.

Lucy said that if you want to accomplish something, you have to want it. She faced a lot of challenges in her educational journey and the support of family keeps her going. She encourages youth to go to college or a trade school, even if that means leaving home. Homesickness is one of those challenges that you overcome. Your home is not moving at all and you can always go back. She said, “Be the reason someone feels welcomed, heard, seen, known, and loved.”

James C. Ay’aqulluk Chaliak, Baccalaureate degree speaker, began his speech by saying that he is here. He said that a lot of graduates were saying how they’ve been in school for so long, but persistence is key. He reflected on his maternal grandmother, who didn’t say much, but her presence was most important. The journey to get here was more than just academics. He said that there is no right or wrong about our lives, we just keep living the Yup’ik way, “the human way.” He spoke about honoring our grandchildren, the leaders of tomorrow, and ended with piuraa, be who you are.

Leanna Kaligtok Isaac, “Bubbles,” Master’s degree speaker wanted everyone to participate in humming “Row row row your boat” together, and her message was that we all help each other. She said there are different ways of learning; listening, watching, and doing. Acts of kindness are so important, and they go a long way and really helped her get to where she is. She encouraged everyone to share acts of kindness with each other. They mean more than we can know in someone’s life.

Director Goolsby and Katie Rearden, Assistant Director of KuC, conferred degrees on the graduates. The graduates were instructed to move their tassels from the right to the left side of their caps, symbolizing completion of this stage of education and commencement of a new beginning.

Distinguished awards were announced as follows: Full-time Student of the Year Award for 2022 to Theresa Hooper, Part-time Student of the Year Award for 2022 to Jim Chaliak, and Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the UAF to Michael Williams, Sr.

Closing remarks were given by prerecorded messages from UAF leaders Bryan Uher, Dean of Community and Native Education, Charlene Stern, Vice Chancellor, and Daniel White, Chancellor.

The ceremony concluded with the benediction by Pastor and Rachelle White, after which Director Goolsby thanked everyone for coming. Maurice Nanalook led faculty, guests, and graduates out of the ceremony with traditional drumming.

Lucy Peloso is a Jesuit Volunteer in Bethel and Katie Rearden is the Assistant Director for KuC.