KuC 45th Commencement

by Katie Rearden

Masters Degree recipients: From left are Sheila Phillip, Irene Wassillie, Kayla Ashe, Audra Surman, Emerie Fairbanks, Julie Boynton, Georgianna Starr, and Sephora Lestenkof. photo by Dean Swope

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) College of Rural and Community Development (CRCD) Kuskokwim Campus (KuC) held it’s forty-fifth commencement ceremony at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel on Thursday, May 2, 2019. The afternoon ceremony honored 25 graduates from 17 Alaskan communities.

The event started as Panuk Agimik, KuC’s Yup’ik dance instructor, drummed while the KuC faculty and guests entered followed by the graduates who advanced up the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance” by Joshua Fisher on guitar.

KuC’s Acting Director, Linda Curda, welcomed distinguished guests Evon Peter (Vice Chancellor for Rural Community, and Native Education), Dan White (Chancellor, University of Alaska Fairbanks), and Lisa Parker (University of Alaska Board of Regents) followed by the invocation by Richard Magner, S.J. of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.

The Presentation of the Colors and Pledge of Allegiance were done by the Bethel Regional High School JROTC.

Nita Rearden honored Mary Ciuniq Pete, KuC’s past Director, in a memoriam reading followed by a slideshow and music created by Cynthia Andrecheck and Ron Kaiser.

Vice Chancellor Peter remarked that it was an honor to be here and appreciated the reflections of beauty that Mary Pete brought to the KuC campus, reaching people to grow in their knowledge to help themselves and their families. He told the graduates that they are honoring Mary’s legacy through their commitment and dedication to completing their degrees, and he was happy for the great day we have to celebrate the graduates.

Linda Curda introduced the keynote speaker, Angass’aq Sally Samson, KuC Assistant Professor of Yup’ik Language and Culture. Sally spoke about teaching students through their culture. She said that when teaching literacy in Yugtun, teachers were taught to show children letters before words; however, as Yup’ik people, children learn through observation, and that is where literacy begins.

Sally grew up enjoying learning Yup’ik through stories at school and she loved it. When she was taught English in school she didn’t have fun. She was taught “c a t” spells cat, however, it was not relevant as she did not have any cats in her village. She thought that she was the dumbest student in the class and she hated reading.

When she earned her Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics program, she knew that children learn literacy better when they are taught through what they know. Sally said that by trying to teach in a way another culture learns, we are hurting our children, and many probably dropout thinking they are dumb.

Sally said that the Yup’ik language and culture is our way of life, and no one can tell us that our way of life has no meaning in our institutions or workplaces.

Miranda Johansson, Associate degree student speaker, was born in Alaska but moved to Sweden when she was five years old, graduating from high school in Sweden. She moved back to Alaska in 2010, attended her first graduation, and knew she wanted to wear “those clothes” one day. She always loved art and wanted to use it to help people.

She started her five year dream to take classes part time while working full time and then ended up taking classes full time while working full time. She advised everyone to pinpoint what makes you excited and do it while taking care of yourself along the way.

Baccalaureate student speaker, Gabina Okitkun from Kotlik spoke about her journey through furthering her education through 10 key words: Doubt, Overcoming, Years, Outcome, Unexpected, Reserved, Better, Excited, Support, and Teacher. The first letters in each word spell out: DO YOUR BEST! At the end, she confidently proclaimed, “I did it mom!”

Audra Surman, a Master’s degree student who is a teacher from Nelson Island, thanked the professors who encouraged the students never to give up. She stated that her job as a teacher is to continue her work to build a stronger foundation in our educational future. She encouraged everyone to share their combined wealth of knowledge to increase our culturally rich community.

Asela Calhoun, Director of Community Health Aide Program/Education at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, began the degree ceremony by acknowledging four students with Community Health Practitioner Certificates. Acting Director Linda Curda honored three students with Certificates in Ethnobotany, and one student with a certificate in Tribal Management.

Acting Director Curda, Vice Chancellor Peter, Chancellor White, University of Alaska Board of Regents Regent Parker, and UAF Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, Veronica Plumb, conferred degrees on the graduates, four Associate degrees, four Bachelor degrees, and nine Master degrees.

The graduates moved 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.

The Kuskokwim Dancers performed a dance from Stebbins, which was the song from Mary Pete’s first dance. Mary’s husband, Hubert, along with her longtime friend, Nita Rearden, joined the dancers on stage to participate in this dance honoring Mary.

Chancellor White offered closing remarks, thanking the graduates for choosing UAF and for the support of their families. He ended with saying; “You did it. Good luck in your future. Thank you and Congrats.”

Richard Magner from the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church closed the ceremony with the benediction.

Acting Director Linda Curda invited all guests to stay for a reception for the graduates.

Community Health Certificate recipients: From left Agnes Nicoli and Pauline Mann. photo by Dean Swope
Baccalaureate Degree recipients: From left Gabina Okitkun, Tamara Trefon, and Cathy McIntyre. photo by Dean Swope
Associate Degree recipients: From left are Theresa Hooper and Miranda Johansson. photo by Dean Swope