Ilisagvik College honored a graduating class of 62 students at its annual commencement exercises on April 26 at Ipalook Elementary School. - Provided

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Ilisagvik College honors 62 graduates at ceremony

May 31st, 2013 | Elise Patkotak Print this article   Email this article  

Ilisagvik College held its annual commencement exercises on April 26 at Ipalook Elementary School. This year saw a graduating class of 62 students.

Seventeen associate degrees and 83 certificates were awarded. Just six years ago, the 2006-2007 graduating class received 37 awards, total. Ilisagvik College continues to strive to meet its mission of increasing the number of graduates that are well educated and trained to enter into the Alaskan workforce.

Ilisagvik President Pearl Brower welcomed the graduates, family and friends to the ceremony with these words, "Someday perhaps, this exercise will become routine for all of us. But for right now, it is still an amazing privilege to be able to attend a college graduation right here on the North Slope." Her welcoming remarks were followed by an invocation from Chairperson Ida Angasan. Reverend Mary Ann Warden was expected, but unfortunately due to weather was unable to attend.

Student speakers were graduates Myrna Loy Sarren who received her associate of arts degree, general studies, and Norman Edwards who received his associate of arts degree, general studies, with a human service emphasis. They were chosen by President Brower from among a select group of graduates who had maintained a 3.5 GPA or higher. Both described their roads to higher education as challenging but worth the effort.

Sarren spoke about being an "adult learner" trying to juggle family, work and school. "The more educated we as individuals become, the more success we obtain. Through all of my hard work, I was nominated as the 2012-2013 Student of the Year and won! Because of this, Ilisagvik sent me ... to Green Bay, Wisconsin in March. I represented Ilisagvik College at the 32nd annual AIHEC Conference as Student of the Year. College students from other Tribal Colleges gave impromptu speeches and talked about similar hardships that we, in the North Slope, have experienced as well. There are others just like us.

"Having a family, working full-time, and trying to go to college full-time has been hectic in trying to coordinate our family's busy life around our classes, such as basketball and piano practices, Girl Scouts and parent/teacher conferences, and my husband's subsistence hunting by helping clean and put away his catch."

Edwards described for the graduates the circuitous route he took to higher education, failing at times but always trying again.

"As I prepare to graduate, I have more education waiting for me. I am currently a student at Northwest Christian University in Eugene Oregon where I have been taking classes since this spring. My career goal is to earn my Ph.D in psychology while encouraging my nephew, Xavier, who is a student at Idaho University, to earn his Ph.D and return to the North Slope to work as a counselor. We feel like we are a part of this community and we need to give back.

"For anyone who thinks they are not college material, think again. We all have a God-given gift and Iḷisaġvik College will help you realize and cultivate that gift. Don't think about the obstacles that you will face, think about the progress you can make.

"Life is a series of challenges and everyone struggles and gets knocked down, but you have to try and get back up. In case no one has told you, it is not easy in the real world but you do the best you can and keep moving forward. I encourage you to do whatever it takes to get an education or training because once you are educated, no one can take that from you. It is something that belongs to you and you alone. Others may help you but they can't learn for you."

Student Body President Jamie Smith presented the keynote address that Shirley Reilly planned to give before injuries precluded her travel to the North Slope. Shirley, an Iñupiat originally from Barrow, has become an internationally recognized athlete in wheelchair track and road racing. While competing in the London Marathon, she injured herself and could not attend the ceremony. But her speech was still inspirational to all who heard it because her journey was one of overcoming handicaps that most people can't even imagine.

In discussing how she overcame her disabilities, Shirley stated, "The most inspiring thing to me is a person who is not willing to give up on his or her dreams. Hopefully, I can inspire you to keep on going and remember your long-term goal, and how close you are to reaching that goal. I know I will win some races and lose some, but what is important is to keep trying and follow your dreams. You can achieve success when you believe in yourself. I want you all to remember to live life with integrity, follow your passion and be true to yourself. All of you can accomplish something if you put your mind to it and work hard with dedication."

Mae Ahgeak was recognized by the college as their Alumnus of the Year for her continued work in education and commitment to the North Slope community. She spoke to the students about the joys of education and the results of the hard work it takes to obtain your degree. She encouraged the community and the students to keep on learning. The benediction ending the ceremony was offered by Herman Ahsoak, a long-time supporter of Ilisagvik College.

After the ceremony the Inupiaq Songs, Dances and Drumming class performed to celebrate the event, and all enjoyed a yummy spaghetti meal.

For more information about Ilisagvik College or to register for summer camps, classes, or for next fall semester, please visit us online: or call: 1.800.478.7337, ext, 1799.


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