Thunder Mountain High School graduates celebrate after moving their tassels to the left, their newly received diplomas in hand, at the end of Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduates celebrate after moving their tassels to the left, their newly received diplomas in hand, at the end of Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

‘Forever a Falcon’: Thunder Mountain High School celebrates final graduating class

147 seniors get soaring sendoff during 16th annual commencement full of heightened emotions.

Memories, hopes and words of inspiration soared for a final time as Thunder Mountain High School celebrated 147 graduates at its 16th and final commencement ceremony on Sunday evening.

As the seniors move on to college, jobs and other next steps in life, the underclassmen will consolidate into Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé when they return during the coming school year. But the students, staff, family and others celebrating the Class of 2024 graduates said the spirit of TMHS will continue to exist through all of them.

“Recognizing our graduates in a world of change and uncertainty gives me hope,” Principal Shawn Arnold said during his opening remarks at the ceremony. “Your tenacity and work ethic have driven you to succeed and be your best. As a class you leave a well-rounded legacy behind. You certainly have enhanced our school’s reputation and embodied the winning attitude of a Falcon.”

Thunder Mountain High School students move their tassels to the left after receiving their diplomas during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School students move their tassels to the left after receiving their diplomas during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Feelings are unavoidably mixed with the school’s shutdown, Arnold said in an interview after the commencement ceremony.

“It’s exciting after having gotten to know these students the past three years to see them graduate,” he said. “But it’s sad knowing that this is the last Thunder Mountain High School class leaving the building. So there was a little bit of extra emotion tonight, but our students will be in good hands when they transition to Juneau-Douglas.”

The symbolism of TMHS’ mascot, the Falcon, was the focus of a commencement speech by state Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau. Notably, she focused on the peregrine falcon which lives in Southeast Alaska.

“One thing to remember about the peregrine is that it’s a falcon that migrates and that’s what every one of you students will be doing later this year,” she said. “Whether you’re migrating to trades training, or college, to the military, or a job, to a church mission, or a travel adventure, away from this place that has been your nest for four years, it’s time to make the leap. I have no doubt that you will soar because that’s what Falcons do. And for the underclassmen Falcons here, you too will migrate this fall — about 10 miles southeast to be exact. I encourage you to remember that peregrines are fearless and agile.”

Story added both TMHS graduates and the underclassmen will “forever be Falcons.”

Thunder Mountain High School Valedictorian Lauren Stichert gives a speech about the resilience of her graduating class during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School Valedictorian Lauren Stichert gives a speech about the resilience of her graduating class during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The building itself and the Thunder Mountain name will also live on, with the facility scheduled to accommodate all local seventh- and eighth-grades students beginning this fall as the renamed Thunder Mountain Middle School.

TMHS Valedictorian Lauren Stichert spoke on the two “unprecedented” events her graduating class faced — the COVID-19 pandemic and the Juneau School District’s financial deficit which led to TMHS’ closure.

“Despite these unusual obstacles, we were able to adapt and overcome and have grown from the experience,” she said.

Stichert said her graduating class persevered through the announcement of the school consolidation plan thanks to TMHS faculty, and they are all “smarter, kinder and better” thanks to their teachers.

TMHS graduates Jade Hicks and Mackenzie Lam jokingly held up cardboard cutouts of “Aquaman” actor Jason Momoa during a joint speech, claiming he’s the celebrity crush of teachers Kristen Wells and Angela Noon, and the cutouts were taken from their classrooms. They also shared a quote by Momoa in their speech: “I’m raised to actually think, to use my brain.”

“We can’t help but marvel at how far we’ve come,” Hicks said. “High school is full of obstacles and our class experienced a major setback before we even started. We want to give a shoutout to all the teachers that adapted to online learning.”

Jade Hicks and Mackenzie Lam jokingly hold up cardboard cutouts of “Aquaman” actor Jason Momoa, saying they took them from the classrooms of teachers who have a celebrity crush on him, during a joint speech at Thunder Mountain High School’s commencement ceremony on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Jade Hicks and Mackenzie Lam jokingly hold up cardboard cutouts of “Aquaman” actor Jason Momoa, saying they took them from the classrooms of teachers who have a celebrity crush on him, during a joint speech at Thunder Mountain High School’s commencement ceremony on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

“Senior year, it has certainly been an interesting one,” Lam said. “It has been a year of change and growth for many things. For our community, for the FAFSA, but most importantly, for ourselves.”

TMHS teachers, in turn, had their thoughts about the 2024 graduating class.

“It’s a pretty incredible class of students that have started and ended with two big bookmarks, big change in their four years, and they’ve really overcome a lot,” said Corrine Marks, an English teacher.

“As a group of seniors, phenomenally kind people,” social studies teacher Jamie Marks said. “And I would argue that comes from surviving several difficult situations through high school. And that’s why I think that together the students and the staff and the families together really helped make a really good education.”

The final TMHS graduating class is also memorable for students achieving national notoriety.

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Elizabeth Djajalie sings the National Anthem at Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Elizabeth Djajalie sings the National Anthem at Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

One is National Honor Society Scholarship Award winner Elizabeth Djajalie, one of four students selected from nearly 17,000 applicants, who sang the National Anthem during commencement. Another is state champion swimmer PJ Foy who will compete at the Olympic trials in Indianapolis this June and then attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to compete on its swim team in the fall.

“I’m just gonna have fun this summer,” Foy said. “One last summer in Juneau. This was a great last graduating class for TM. A lot of good people.”

As for other Falcons’ plans this fall, they will soar high and far.

TMHS graduate Amy Welling will attend Brigham Young University in Utah to pursue a degree in biology and become an anesthesiologist.

“Graduation has felt amazing,” Welling said. “It has been a long, hard four years. We started in COVID and we’ve ended this year with chaos, but it has been a great opportunity. And I am so thankful for all the people who’ve made it possible. The parents, the staff, the coaches, everybody in the building has made it possible for all of us to graduate, and it has been a wonderful experience that they have all contributed a lot of time and a lot of effort to.”

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Samuel Lockhart with his diploma. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Samuel Lockhart with his diploma. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

TMHS graduate Olivia Mills will attend Gonzaga University in Washington on an athletic scholarship for the Gonzaga women’s rowing team and pursue a pre-veterinary science degree.

Mills said joining the TMHS swim and basketball programs changed her outlook on teamwork and friendships, calling her high school “a found family.”

TMHS graduate Sage Waid will attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland to study comparative literature in English-language linguistics. Like other Falcons, he was glad “to survive COVID and finally make it to the end.”

• Contact Jasz Garrett at jasz.garrett@juneauempire.com or (907) 723-9356.

Thunder Mountain High School Principal Shawn Arnold recognizes graduating students during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School Principal Shawn Arnold recognizes graduating students during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduates clap for speakers during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduates clap for speakers during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School social studies teacher Jamie Marks gives a speech at Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett/ Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School social studies teacher Jamie Marks gives a speech at Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett/ Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School senior class president Charlene Lumba leads the tassel ceremony during Sunday’s commencement. (Jasz Garrrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School senior class president Charlene Lumba leads the tassel ceremony during Sunday’s commencement. (Jasz Garrrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Primo Nauer calls out to family after receiving his diploma during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Primo Nauer calls out to family after receiving his diploma during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Lacie Gehring with her diploma during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett /Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Lacie Gehring with her diploma during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett /Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Olivia Mills walks across the graduation stage during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Olivia Mills walks across the graduation stage during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Joshua Kessler receives his diploma during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate Joshua Kessler receives his diploma during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

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