On Friday, 14 seniors from the Kuskokwim Learning Academy received their diplomas at Bethel’s Cultural Center. The program accepts students from all over the Y-K Delta and focuses on academic achievement, work-based learning, community volunteerism, personal responsibility, self-confidence, and pride.
Graduates from KLA emerge with a high school diploma from LKSD, as well as skills needed to enter the professional workforce. The auditorium was crowded with tearful friends, teachers, and parents, and each graduate took to the podium to tell the world what this meant to them.
"KLA has done so much for us," said graduating senior Myka Kernak. "I’ve received my CNA license, interned at KYUK as a host. I’ve made friends from all over Alaska."
"Those years went by fast," said Michael Uttereyuk. "And they have been the best years of high school."
KLA's program can be difficult, and each graduate took a moment to thank the family, friends, and teachers who helped them along the way. One student thanked her best friend for keeping her motivated (and telling her entertaining Bigfoot stories). Another student thanked her teacher for letting her eat in his office.
Other students thanked their families. "Today is a very special day for me, but also a very special day for my daughter," said graduate Kaylee Tyson. "Look, Rosalyn - I made it!"
"I’d like to thank everyone else who’s been there for me, especially my mom," said a tearful Margaret Alexie. "I never imagined this day would come. I went through a journey without quitting; I tried so hard.
"UAA, here I come!" she shouted at the end of her speech, and the room broke into applause.
Some graduates took the opportunity to give advice to younger students. "Don’t give up too soon," said Mary Augustine. "High school will be over really fast and you’ll wonder where it all went."
The graduates' speeches moved several audience members to tears, including several of their teachers.
"I am so honored that I got to know each and every one of these students," said KLA Principal Lori Stafford. "They’re here because of their true spirit and character within. I couldn’t be more proud."