High school seniors across the country are donning their caps and gowns to step from one phase of their lives into the next. The Capital City Weekly spoke to several Southeast graduates to learn what significance this change holds and what their hopes are for the future.
Bethany Bohlke was born in Juneau and later moved to Gustavus where she is graduating as valedictorian of her class. She’s been counting down the days till graduation since January. In her speech, she said she will thank everyone who has helped her along the way since she thinks she hasn’t thanked people enough and will remind her classmates to thank those who helped them too. Her kindergarten through second grade teacher comes to mind, Ellie Sharman, who ran “a super orderly classroom that was just fun and strict at the same time,” or her freshmen English teacher who “really made teaching fun” and she was sad to see retire her freshmen year. Bohlke is interested in becoming a teacher too, and will be an elementary education major at the University of Alaska Southeast this fall.
“It’s kind of something that happened one day. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it because I feel like it’s something that I’m meant to do. It was a really easy idea. I’ve done a bit of work in our kindergarten first grade classroom here in Gustavus. I love being in there. I love hanging out with the kids and helping them. It’s a lot of fun. It’s something I really enjoy. I think helping them really reinforced my decision,” she said.
Bohlke plans to return to rural Alaska to teach since small communities tend to have a harder time retaining teachers than urban ones.
“In rural communities, the education here at least, I’ve had four different English teachers every year. It’s been super difficult. You have to readjust and everything is just different all the time and that can really mess with kids. I just want to be a consistent, high quality teacher for these kids that really miss out on a lot when they have to readjust so much,” she said.
Outside of college, she hopes to travel the world since she has always had an interest in geography and different cultures. She’d like to start by visiting all 50 states.
Also of Gustavus is salutatorian Kaitlyn Seay who moved to the small town in 2015 from Arizona. She will be attending Aurora University in Illinois on a track scholarship where she will study athletic training. She’s been doing track since she was 11 years old and also took part in volleyball when she came to Alaska. Getting on Aurora University’s track team is a dream come true, she said.
“There’s six of us in our graduating class,” she explained. “This whole year, everyone has been telling us what we’ve decided to do is not good enough and we’ve just been there for each other to support each other to say all of our choices are what’s going to be best for us.”
To other students, she advised them “to not listen to what everyone is telling you, to just follow your heart and do what you want to do.”
She doesn’t think she’ll return to Alaska once she graduates since opportunities in her field will likely be scarce, she said. That doesn’t put a damper on her graduation though.
“We have the biggest graduating class from Gustavus in a really long time. It’s just really exciting to see how everyone is really excited about it and the fact that we all graduated.”
For Jerry White of Hoonah, sports were a big part of his high school experience, from participating in basketball and volleyball to cross-country and wrestling. He worked hard to stay eligible to keep playing sports and to help his teammates too, he said. He advised upcoming graduates to stick with their studies.
“Some things will be harder than others but it will be done before you know it so treasure it,” he said.
In the fall he plans to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage to get his bachelors of business administration. While he isn’t sure exactly what he wants to do, he said he is leaning towards working in tourism.
“Tourism is really growing in Hoonah and that’s something that I could be a part of,” he said.
He plans to stay in Alaska for a few years but also wants to see what the Lower 48 has to offer too.
Mikah Lahrman of Skagway, an artist and photographer, will not only graduate this month but she also received a $2000 scholarship from the Margaret Frans Brady Fund to use towards Ivy Tech in Indiana where she will be attending in the fall. It was “truly special” to receive it, she said, since she knew there were so many other great student artists in Southeast who could have received it instead. Art is her passion and she wants her future career to be focused on it, whether selling her art or working at a museum to share art.
“I have always been interested in the arts. As a kid I would always doodle onto random surfaces but I never really developed an actual connection to it until I reached my tween years. Photography was my way of expressing and showing the world how I see things. It was also a strong symbol for me because my father is a photographer but the power of a single moment is immense — you can cause a powerful reaction differently from random people. My drawings were always something I kept for my own venting. It turned into a career choice when I wanted to share my feelings with the world and begin a process of making people feel better from my art or not feel alone,” she said.
Outside of her future career, her big life goal is simple: be happy.
“I just want to be happy, genuinely happy. I want the people around me to be happy as well. That’s my goal to achieve a way to bring happiness to my life and to others.”
Life lessons she has learned: “Never give up, never let someone else be your happiness, and being yourself is important because no one else can be you.”
• Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.