Non-traditional students who overcome challenges to succeed in academics was the overriding theme during Saturday’s University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan campus graduation ceremony
When you hear the words “college student,” you usually picture a fresh-faced young person in their late teens or early 20s.
And there were a few of those on stage during the 2016 UAS Ketchikan commencement, but as UAS Chancellor Richard Caulfield noted, many UAS graduates are non-traditional, and must persevere through challenges that younger students don’t always have to face.
“I was thinking about what word captures the quality of many of our students, the ones who don’t necessarily come right out of a high school environment, or come from a family where college has been part of their experience,” he said. “I went back to the dictionary, and the word that sticks with me is that ‘perseverance.’”
All of the UAS Ketchikan graduation speakers talked about the many extra challenges non-traditional students have to overcome, but, as Caulfield encouraged the audience to demonstrate, they don’t do it alone.
“The parents and the guardians and the grandparents of our graduates today, would you please stand and stay standing?” he asked.
A fair percentage of the audience stood up.
“And then how about the brothers and sisters, and aunties and uncles of the graduates who are graduating today, if would you please stand and stay standing?”
A few more rose.
“And how about the children of the graduates today? And how about the grandparents? How about the family and friends of our graduates today? Please stand.”
By now, the entire audience was on its feet.
“So, graduates, I know you know how important these individuals have been to your success,” Caulfield said. “Please join me in thanking all of your family and friends for their support.”
Retired adjunct instructor Biz Robbins gave the commencement address. She also talked about the challenges her students have faced, and then she listed some of the other “C” words her students have shown.
“Like courage, and commitment and communication and collaboration and clarity and confidence,” she said.
Student speaker Helen Mickel, graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting, talked about another “C” word – a challenge that nearly derailed her education goals.
“I was working on an associate’s degree in business administration when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009,” she said. “The diagnosis set me back a couple semesters as I went through surgery, radiation, chemo. But with the love and support of my husband and family, I persisted and graduated with that associate’s degree in 2011.
“With that success, I was motivated to complete my bachelor’s degree, and immediately enrolled in more classes. However, just a few months in, I received another diagnosis,” she said. “This time, it was colon cancer. It was a higher stage cancer. It was more serious. And the chemo cocktail that was prescribed to me took me down.”
Mickel said she almost gave up on college. But, again, with the support of family, instructors and friends, she said she – like other students who face seemingly insurmountable hurdles — persevered.
“I’m glad I didn’t give up, and I’m so happy to be here, celebrating with you today. “
Mickel received a standing ovation at the close of her comments.
Soon after, the audience rose for another ovation, this time for the recipient of the UAS Ketchikan Meritorious Service Award. It went to Larry Painter, a longtime advocate for sustainable fisheries in the region.
Chancellor Caulfield, introducing Painter, said, “His efforts laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and it brought about important beneficial changes in Alaska’s sustainable fisheries. While Larry is quite an unassuming man, he is held in high esteem, and is known as a standard-bearer, an innovator, and a gentleman.”
And a third standing ovation went to all the graduates, as UAS Ketchikan Campus Director Priscilla Schulte instructed them in the final act marking their achievements.
“With the turning of the tassels from right to left, you signify the completion of your journey from student to graduate,” she said. “Please turn your tassels.”
As the graduates complied, the audience provided another enthusiastic round of applause.
And then, everyone was invited to enjoy some cake.