In Your Words: Ilisagvik College celebrates recent graduates
On April 29 at the Ipalook Elementary School, Iḷisaġvik College held its 22nd commencement exercise honoring students who achieved academic success in their field of study. Graduates included 15 associate degrees, 31 certificates and 36 endorsements.
Ida Angasan, Iḷisaġvik Board of Trustees member from Kaktovik, offered the invocation. Iḷisaġvik College President Dr. Pearl Brower welcomed graduates and their family and friends with an address that emphasized the theme of working together and supporting each other.
Brower noted that the Inupiat culture was strong because of its belief in working together. She stated that Iḷisaġvik students are not the typical mix usually seen at graduations, with many students returning to complete their education after a long absence from school.
She added, "We work hard to make sure that every student here feels supported and safe as they explore the best path to their future. That support can only be generated if we work together to make each student feel valued."
The student speaker for this commencement was Jaimie Patkotak. Dr. Edna MacLean gave the commencement address. MacLean's speech spoke to the importance of education in growing the next generation of leaders on the North Slope. She explained how critical the Inupiat language was to the learning process, encouraging students to become fluent in both languages to best serve their culture and their communities.
In speaking about past community leaders who had emphasized the need for the availability of higher education on the North Slope, MacLean stated, "They had to speak English to convince lawyers and lawmakers of the importance of the fight to assert our claim to the land of the North Slope; at the same time, speaking our Iñupiaq language, they had to inform the people and their village councils of their progress and setbacks." She added, "Learning equally well in Iñupiaq and English was a priority."
MacLean ended her speech on an encouraging and hopeful note, stating, "Most of all, I wish all of you to learn that happiness comes from within and we all must learn to hold on to it wherever life takes us. You make us happy and proud of what you have accomplished."
Martha Saaŋiaq Hopson was selected to receive the 3rd Honorary Associate of Arts Degree, conferred by the Iḷisaġvik College Board of Trustees, for her lifetime commitment to Iñupiaq education and language on the North Slope. Billy James Lowrey was selected as Alumnus of the Year and Mathematics Professor Dr. Natalie Welcome was recognized as Faculty of the Year for her work in expanding Iḷisaġvik's math program and engaging at all levels with her students and the community. She was noted especially for her success in approaching math remediation classes.
Following the ceremony, Ilisagvik hosted a dinner with entertainment provided by Iḷisaġvik College Ilisagvinmiut — Iḷisaġvik's Iñupiaq song and dance class. The evening ended with a surprise performance of Inupiat dance and song from the faculty and staff of the college, who all wore atikłuks they had made themselves. It took two months of practice but the audience clearly enjoyed the performance and agreed that staff and faculty did well in honoring Inupiat traditional song and dance.