Sierra Guerro-Flores (right) listens to her advisor Electra Gardinier after being presented with her diploma at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sierra Guerro-Flores (right) listens to her advisor Electra Gardinier after being presented with her diploma at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Alternatives are vast for Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduating class

31 students take center stage during ceremony revisiting their paths at the school and what’s next.

Javahnevan San Nicholas is a mammoth of a man, so burying him up past his neck in graduation leis and other adornments is no small feat. But his family proudly did that after he received his diploma from Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School during its commencement ceremony Sunday, covering him with so many garlands made of fake flowers, snack chip bags and ramen noodle cups he could barely accept handshakes of congratulations as relatives gathered around him for photos.

Nicholas, 18, a lifelong Juneau resident, was among 31 students graduating from the alternative high school at a ceremony held in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. Like his classmates he had individual reasons for attending YDHS, transferring in 2022 from Thunder Mountain High School when he got behind in credits.

“The teachers were more opening and just really more into it,” he said. “And it just really helped me out in many ways. Like my problems would become their problems, they would help me out.”

Javahnevan San Nicholas receives leis of considerable substance following his graduation from Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School in a commencement ceremony at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Javahnevan San Nicholas receives leis of considerable substance following his graduation from Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School in a commencement ceremony at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

On his graduation day Nicholas had a strong sense of security about his immediate plans (“tomorrow I’m just going to lay back, hang out with my family”) since he’s already secured employment — quite fittingly as a security officer for a local health care company.

“It just makes it easier,” he acknowledged when asked if his size had anything to do with his applying for — and getting — the job.

In the longer term Nicholas said he hopes to go to college and learn the skills to run his own automotive repair business.

“I really like cars and I want to know the knowledge of building my own cars, and having my own shop,” he said.

Because of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi’s relatively small graduating class compared to Juneau’s two conventional high schools, as well as the individualized approach to education, all 31 students received a narrative tribute on stage from their faculty advisor after receiving their diploma — with the speeches rife with humor, frankness, wonder and sentimentality.

The custom-decorated caps of some of the 31 students graduating from Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School are seen at the commencement ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The custom-decorated caps of some of the 31 students graduating from Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School are seen at the commencement ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

“Just about everything has changed since you were 12 except for your height,” Sierra Guerro-Flores was told by her advisor, Electra Gardinier. “When I first met you I was honestly frightened by you. You can fire up an entire classroom in an instant and, if middle schoolers were a pile of wildland kindling, you were the match and you knew it. If you thought the assignment was stupid, everyone thought the assignment was stupid.”

However, “you started to trust me and one day even wanted to share in circle,” Gardinier said, referring to peer sessions. “And then of course everyone wanted to share in circle. Throughout our time in that circle we shared about birth and tragically about death when you lost your cousin…You took the power that I saw in you years ago and you used it for good instead of evil. You became a stronger friend, girlfriend and sister. You became an infinitely better student, and here you are today graduating early and ready to light up the world. I am so proud of you.”

Kenyon Jordan delivers the student graduation speech during Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School’s commencement ceremony in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Kenyon Jordan delivers the student graduation speech during Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School’s commencement ceremony in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The commencement’s student speech was given by Kenyon Jordan, who in addition to recognizing the academic strides made by his peers recited a list of favorite moments beyond the classroom ranging from camping trips with an advisor to bowling with classmates to whale watching to community involvement days.

“What I hope for every student that will come here in the future is that they learn and grow just as much as I did,” he said. “I hope we all had a positive effect on each other and we’ll continue to do so in the future. I hope that we realize that this is just step one.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Brianna Elisoff is congratulated by Principal John Paul after receiving her diploma during Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Brianna Elisoff is congratulated by Principal John Paul after receiving her diploma during Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola takes photos of her son, Job Nelson, as he receives his diploma during Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola takes photos of her son, Job Nelson, as he receives his diploma during Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Graduating seniors at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School listen to departing words from Principal John Paul during Sunday’s commencement ceremony in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Graduating seniors at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School listen to departing words from Principal John Paul during Sunday’s commencement ceremony in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Newly graduated students at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School toss their caps in the air following Sunday’s commencement ceremony in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Newly graduated students at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School toss their caps in the air following Sunday’s commencement ceremony in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Seniors at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School enter the auditorium at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium Sunday for their commencement ceremony. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Seniors at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School enter the auditorium at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium Sunday for their commencement ceremony. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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