“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“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 email@example.com or (907) 957-2306.