A student touches her tassel as she greets family members during the entrance procession of the graduation ceremony at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A student touches her tassel as she greets family members during the entrance procession of the graduation ceremony at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

‘We figured out how to stay together’: Commonalities at core of JDHS graduation

Ceremony was a show of promise for JDHS graduating seniors.

“We show up” was the theme of Zoey Billings’ commencement speech to her fellow seniors, noting the graduating group’s cohesive and supportive nature in the face of a pandemic that meant the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé students were often physically separated.

The struggles of COVID-19, the thrill of things returning to normal for senior year, and some notably sentimental family and nostalgic moments from top leaders marked Sunday’s graduation ceremony in a packed JDHS gymnasium. Billings, one of two student speakers, said even when the pandemic kept them from coming to school, they still found ways to come together.

Zoey Billings, a graduating senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, holds her just-received diploma as she hugs Principal Paula Casperson during the school’s graduation ceremony. Billings, one of two student speakers at the ceremony, emphasized the importance of coming together even when circumstances keep people unwillingly separated from each other. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Zoey Billings, a graduating senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, holds her just-received diploma as she hugs Principal Paula Casperson during the school’s graduation ceremony. Billings, one of two student speakers at the ceremony, emphasized the importance of coming together even when circumstances keep people unwillingly separated from each other. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

“We knew what we had to do to get the job done,” she said. “We figured out how to stay together when we were supposed to be living from home. We continued to support our friends, even when life forced them to be on the sidelines.”

Billings said their efforts were rewarded when they were able to fully reunite for their senior year — and as they prepare to separate again the same process can serve them in future life.

“When we meet again we will have new experiences and new stories to tell,” said Billings, who is planning to attend Utah State University in the fall to study business management. “We will have become a better version of ourselves. Whatever happens Class of 2023, keep showing up.”

Carlynn Casperson and Jossline Aranda-Jackson, seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, deliver the Tlingit land acknowledgement at the opening of their school’s graduation ceremony Sunday. Casperson’s mother, Paula, is school’s principal. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Carlynn Casperson and Jossline Aranda-Jackson, seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, deliver the Tlingit land acknowledgement at the opening of their school’s graduation ceremony Sunday. Casperson’s mother, Paula, is school’s principal. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The graduating class was a special one for JDHS Principal Paula Casperson since her daughter, Carlynn, was among the graduates — and one of two students to deliver the ceremony’s opening Tlingit land acknowledgement.

“When I look at you I see people’s babies, and I see my baby, having grown into remarkable young adults,” she said, having seem some of the students when they entered kindergarten 13 years ago. “Your class is special one for me and I could not be more proud, or more emotional.”

Revisiting the past was also a theme of the keynote speech by Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss, who is departing after a 40-year career as an educator. Born and raised in Juneau, she wore her 1980 JDHS Crimson Bears jacket as she talked about other family members who’ve been at past graduations, and the quirky mix of differences and similarities at the school during the many decades she has been a part of it.

“Back in the day when we finished graduation ceremony we went directly out the back doors to celebrate with our friends and family ,just like you’re going to,” she said. “The difference was it was outdoor — rain or shine we celebrated outside in what is now your covered commons area.”

Mac the Bear watches over graduating seniors and their families in commons area of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Sunday. Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss said when she graduated from JDHS back in 1980 the commons area was still undeveloped and Mac the Bear — who was on wheels instead of in a glass cage — often ended up making trips into unexpected rough terrain. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Mac the Bear watches over graduating seniors and their families in commons area of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Sunday. Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss said when she graduated from JDHS back in 1980 the commons area was still undeveloped and Mac the Bear — who was on wheels instead of in a glass cage — often ended up making trips into unexpected rough terrain. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Also, Weiss noted, the gigantic Mac the Bear was on wheels back then instead of his current glass display case, so he wound up in a variety of “unimproved areas.”

What’s still similar is a sense of “who I am with than what I am doing,” Weiss said, noting students still make enormous efforts like she did to learn things such as singing with peers. And she emphasized that while some things aren’t always in their control, such as the COVID-19 restrictions or other unexpected hardships, ultimately “almost every decision we make in life is optional.”

Seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé listen to final words of wisdom from speakers just before the conclusion of their graduation ceremony Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé listen to final words of wisdom from speakers just before the conclusion of their graduation ceremony Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

“Many, many more years success happens when you choose to work hard. You are the one in control,” she said, adding “One step at a time — sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards — find your starting point and then embrace the journey. Work hard, make the decisions and when you hit that speed bump, rely on those around you and make the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé class of 2023 proud.”

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

About 140 students at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé toss their caps in the air after receiving the diplomas during Sunday’s graduation ceremony. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

About 140 students at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé toss their caps in the air after receiving the diplomas during Sunday’s graduation ceremony. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

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