Kaydence Ernzen’s eyes went wide with shock, then her expression turned to sheer joy and then grateful tears after getting a call minutes after she was congratulated in front of her fellow seniors Sunday for her early graduation from Yaakoosgé Daakahídi High School.
Ernzen, 17, sought to surprise her father who was in the Philippines by telling him a few days earlier about getting her diploma months ahead of schedule, but he turned the tables on her with a surprise call as she stood outside the auditorium entrance at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, where the ceremony occurred.
“It was my dad and he was telling me he was going to take me to Paris as a graduation gift,” she said, after exchanging hugs with family members who were with her during the ceremony. “He said he was so proud of me.”
There were noteworthy individual moments for all of the 31 students graduating from the alternative high school, as each was brought up on stage individually so their designated adviser could share stories and experiences.
Some were about remarkable and surprising achievements. Some were touching stories about overcoming adversity. And some were humorous in occasionally oddball ways — such as adviser Naomi Love explaining why her student Dakota Anstine is “kind, caring, quirky, creative and funny.”
“Kota’s big goal in life is to own a nuclear weapon and yet she is one of the kindest people you will ever meet,” Love said.
The alternative ways students embraced education were also highlighted by their advisers.
“I challenged him to learn ancient game of Go and to apply the principals of mathematics to the ancient art of swordfighting,” Charles McKenry, a teacher wearing a pointy wizard hat during ceremony, shared about his advisee Jaylon Katchatag.
The ceremony commemorated a moving on for some staff as well as students. Principal Kristin Garot, delivering the opening speech, noted “it’s like I finally get to graduate also” since she has been appointed the Juneau School District’s new director of the Teaching and Learning Support Department.
“Our school is small and mighty, and thanks to the power of all the individuals that make that happen,” she said in thanking faculty and others supporting students. To the students she said “you came to Yaakoosgé Daakahídi for many different reasons and at many different points in your high school career.”
“You each made the decision to come and stick with it, and do what needed to be done and face the challenges each of you faced,” Garot said.
The student speaker, Helen John, presented a farewell tin’aa to Devin Tatro, who is departing as an adviser and teacher.
“They have seen us at our best and our worst, and they have never given up on us,” John told the audience.
In addition to students having their individual stories told to the audience by staff members who knew them best, many of the seniors were presented with various awards in categories such as scholar, breakthrough, athlete, ambassador and artist.
The end of their time at the alternative school doesn’t mean the students are done taking differing roads from the norm. John Hawkins, wearing an adornment made of artistically assembled $1 and $2 bills, said his plans for a post-graduation celebration are definitely on a different path than a party with family or peers.
“I want to go out the road and ride some four-wheelers,” he said. “Next week when the weather is better.”