A virtual ceremony doesn’t do it for some graduates

Universities are trying to honor students in a time of social distancing

Mel Ponder | Courtesy of Jessica Dominy                                Jessica Dominy, with a face mask she made.

Mel Ponder | Courtesy of Jessica Dominy Jessica Dominy, with a face mask she made.

More than 400 University of Alaska Southeast students will be graduating this weekend, but none of them will have a stage to walk across, a hand to shake or friends and family to wave to.

Because of health restrictions in place on mass gatherings, the University of Alaska will be holding its commencement ceremonies virtually, with pre-recorded videos from speakers available from a dedicated page at the university’s website. UAS has even sent out virtual invitations to the event.

For some of the graduating students, not having their years of work validated with that final ceremony feels like a letdown.

“It sucks. I’m not a traditional college student, I’m the first in my family to go on to a four-year institution,” said Jessica Dominy, one graduating student who was looking forward to walking across the stage.

Dominy, 40, currently lives in Seattle, where she works as a cultural consultant to local school districts. The state of Washington requires indigenous culture be taught as part of its curriculum, and Dominy, who’s Tlingit, works with schools to help teach about Alaska Natives and Native Americans.

“For my mother this was a big deal,” she said. “My mom and my dad were pretty disappointed.”

With her new degree, a double major in anthropology and Alaska Native studies, Dominy wants to work with tribes or Alaska Native Corporations on repatriating cultural artifacts.

But with her graduation happening amid a global pandemic, any plans she had have been upended.

“Graduating in this has definitely put a kink in wanting to study or travel,” Dominy said.

Eric McDonald, 22, is graduating with an associate’s degree in applied sciences, is disappointed he won’t get to walk, but he said he doesn’t mind because he’s also working on his bachelor’s degree.

“I’ve been a distance student for the past two years, the classes didn’t change too much because I was already used to the caseload,” McDonald said. “I was excited to walk, but I’m not too upset about it because I’m going to get my bachelor’s in two years.”

McDonald works for the state and still lives with his parents in Juneau, so he’s not too worried about graduating into what’s expected to be a global recession. He said he feels for many of his peers who are.

“It feels like stepping out into a battlefield,” McDonald said.

A virtual ceremony doesn’t do it for some graduates

One master’s student said she feels getting her degree right now has actually strengthened her ability to get through the next few years.

Haley Krautbauer teaches in Napaskiak, a small village outside Bethel.

“Teachers are hard to find out in this part of Alaska,” Krautbauer said. “I don’t think a recession is going to be that big of a deal for me. If you’re thinking about what you need to get done you can get stuff done.”

Krautbauer’s biggest disappointment was her family not being able to fly up from Minnesota to celebrate with her.

“It was supposed to be a big deal and then all this happened, and now we don’t get to celebrate the opportunity,” she said.

Working as a teacher in rural Alaska is stressful, Krautbauer said, and she was looking forward to reflecting on the achievement of earning her degree while spending time with loved ones.

“I worked really hard and I was gonna get one day, let it feel really special and then get back at it,” she said.

Know & Don’t Go

Commencement announcements will be available May 1 for the Sitka campus. The Juneau and Ketchikan commencements and Native Graduation Celebration will be May 2 at UAS’ website, uas.alaska.edu/commencement. During that commencement, UAS will honor community members. Clark Gruening will receive an honorary Doctorate of Laws. Sharon Gaiptman and William Todd Hunt will be recognized with Meritorious Service Awards.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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