Courtesy Photos 
Sophia Pugh, left, Eden Denton, center, and Rileyanne Payne, right, seniors from Juneau’s three high schools are about to graduate as their time in high school comes to a close.
Sophia Pugh, left, Eden Denton, center, and Rileyanne Payne, right, seniors from Juneau’s three high schools are about to graduate as their time in high school comes to a close. (Courtesy Photos)

Courtesy Photos Sophia Pugh, left, Eden Denton, center, and Rileyanne Payne, right, seniors from Juneau’s three high schools are about to graduate as their time in high school comes to a close. Sophia Pugh, left, Eden Denton, center, and Rileyanne Payne, right, seniors from Juneau’s three high schools are about to graduate as their time in high school comes to a close. (Courtesy Photos)

Ahead of graduation, seniors look back on high school

Sitting astride a pandemic, these seniors have had an interesting four years.

As the Class of 2022 across Juneau and across the country makes its way through the final traditions of high school, seniors reflect on their time in high school — and the road ahead.

The graduating seniors’ time in secondary education is firmly astride the coronavirus pandemic, leading to unusual experiences for many.

“My sophomore season got cut short and we never played a game,” said Rileyanna Payne, graduating from Thunder Mountain High School, speaking about her place on the softball team.

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Many spring sports had their season abruptly terminated when the pandemic broke out in 2020 and schools scrambled to figure out how to continue delivering education. Payne said the distance learning that schools eventually settled on was difficult to get used to, even requiring her to skip her junior year softball season.

“I try to challenge myself academically. With distance learning, I struggled a lot with school,” Payne said. “I’m proud of myself for persevering with that.”

Payne also said she found herself hanging out with people she normally wouldn’t have had time to during a regular schedule.

Rileyanne Payne, a graduating Thunder Mountain High School senior, will attend the University of Montana in the fall. (Courtesy photo / Rileyanne Payne)

Rileyanne Payne, a graduating Thunder Mountain High School senior, will attend the University of Montana in the fall. (Courtesy photo / Rileyanne Payne)

For Sophia Pugh, graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, the reengagement with in-person learning was an odd one.

“Right when we came back, I felt like we were experiencing a lot of weirdness with social interactions with each other,” Pugh said. “As we got more into the motion of it, it got better.”

Yaakoosgé Daakahídi High School senior Eden Denton said that losing the mask requirement was a little weird at first but eventually good.

“The not-wearing masks, it feels really weird because I’ve been so used to it,” Denton said in a phone interview. “But it’s nice that I can see people’s faces.”

Senior year has many traditions in American educational tradition, such as prom, senior ditch day, and final sports championships.

“These last two to three weeks have been this checklist; we’re doing so much stuff,” Pugh said. “We had signing, we had senior night, we had prom, we had senior skip day.”

Both Payne and Pugh were, as of Friday, in the middle of tournaments as the year winds down.

Eden Denton, a Yaakoosgé Daakahídi High School senior, left, poses with Devin Tatro. Denton will attend University of Alaska Southeast in the fall. (Courtesy photo / Eden Denton)

Eden Denton, a Yaakoosgé Daakahídi High School senior, left, poses with Devin Tatro. Denton will attend University of Alaska Southeast in the fall. (Courtesy photo / Eden Denton)

“We’re second seed for state. It’s super exciting because I haven’t been to state yet and it’s my senior year,” Payne said from the Region V tournament on Wednesday. “I think this is the best season I’ve ever played, because I missed last season.”

Pugh and the rest of the JDHS girl’s soccer team are fighting their way through state, kicking off with a blistering 6-0 win over Houston High School.

“Overall I don’t think we could have asked for a better senior year,” Pugh said. “It’s been awesome.”

For others, it’s the ancient and venerable tradition of finally relaxing that comes at the end of the year.

“I had my last credit slip turned on Wednesday. It feels good to be done,” Denton said. “I had senioritis last week. Having all As was a really big thing for me.”

Denton moved from California approximately a year and a half ago, finishing high school out at YDHS , they said.

Sophia Pugh, a Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior, is attending the Pratt Institute in New York in the fall. (Courtesy photo / Sophia Pugh)

Sophia Pugh, a Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior, is attending the Pratt Institute in New York in the fall. (Courtesy photo / Sophia Pugh)

“I like it a lot better. The environment’s a lot better. The people are a lot better,” Denton said. “Yaakoosgé Daakahídi makes it a lot easier. I only had to take three after-school classes.”

All three seniors are headed to college. Denton will stay local, going to University of Alaska Southeast, Payne is going to the University of Montana, and Pugh will range to a whole new ocean as she attends the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

“I’m super excited. I visited campus in March with my mom. It’s a lot like Juneau,” Payne said. “The campus staff are super friendly. I’m super excited to go there for my major.”

Payne said she intends to study wildlife biology. Pugh echoed that excitement, saying she was looking forward to studying fashion and architecture at Pratt.

“I’m super excited,” Pugh said. “I’m super excited to meet my team, meet new people, explore New York, and study what I really want.”

Not content with merely planning for undergrad, Denton said they’re aiming to take it all the way to a Ph.D. as they study applied mathematics and place a “Dr.” in front of their name.

“I’ve always wanted to get my doctorate,” Denton said. “I’m hoping to be a mathematician.”

The future will come sooner than expected, Payne said to the classes following Juneau’s Class of 2022.

“It goes by so fast. I can’t believe I’m graduating,” Payne said. “I still feel like I’m a sophomore.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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