University of Alaska Southeast students celebrated its 40th commencement on Sunday with 541 students completing programs, but, as the class speaker said, learning doesn’t stop here.
Annie Calkins received two honors from UAS on Sunday, she gave the commencement address and was selected for an honorary doctorate degree.
Chancellor John Pugh said honorary doctorate recipients must “show to UAS evidence of significant and lasting contribution to the community or state of Alaska.”
“Annie is one of those who have made a considerable impact in Alaska’s education in more than one area,” he said.
Calkins started teaching in Craig after earning a degree in philosophy in the Midwest. She went on to study at UAS, was an early education specialist and literacy specialist and came to develop a writing consortium still used today. Calkins also worked for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the Juneau School District.
“Forty years ago it was a day like this that captured me, filled me up and made me want to stay in Alaska,” Calkins said.
She began her tenure at Craig, where she was asked to write a list of 101 behavioral objectives to teach in social studies. Calkins became a teaching assistant and recounted how she had earned her education degree — distance learning by writing and “snail mailing” them to the East Coast.
Calkins told stories of progress in education and special moments as an educator.
“Throughout these years many stories of teaching and learning on the Last Frontier,” she said. “My story is not unique in Alaska. Every one in this room has a story to tell about beginnings.”
Calkins said each person was has had opportunities in Alaska to do things differently.
“UAS afforded you rich and diverse opportunities,” she said. “The Community of Juneau allowed you opportunities to explore and grow yourself. My hope is you will use what you know in creative and innovative ways. The Tlingit people in this region are wise about what is important and meaningful in life.”
Calkins said a group of elders drafted advice for the graduates: for teachers, respecting yourself and others is the basis for learning and teachers must hold each other up; business leaders, listen well and with respect so you may speak with care to all you interact with; mathematicians, remember that humor is a good value; those in natural environment and research, always act knowing that we are the stewards of the land, air and water; health care, do your best to help others be strong in mind, body and spirit; artists, remember patience, good work and patronage takes time, and to all, don’t forget to sing and dance once and a while.
Grace Lumba, 2011 student commencement speaker, spoke of education as a beginning.
“We are here,” she said. “We are living proof of growth and of change. I am here to acknowledge our accomplishments, along with the obstacles along the way. I am thankful to be here standing with you, with my peers, the staff and faculty of UAS, and with my friends and family. You are all my role models. Your talents and vulnerabilities help be become a better human being.”
She said education has been her “bullet proof vest.”
Lumba went to Juneau-Douglas High School and recalled living in a house Downtown without running water or electricity.
“This was a little humiliating for me as a teenager,” she said. “I remember going to high school and asking the neighbors to fill our water jugs with their garden hoses. I remember being really humbled by that and really thankful to have a community that is willing to do that. In this story, it’s my families struggle and I choose to grow from it. I choose to act and to change.”
Lumba said she wants a better future for her, her family and her peers.
“Remember we are catalysts for change,” she said. “We are not all-powerful but we are resilient. Let our knowledge and our ability to research become our bulletproof vests. We can shoot the world with our knowledge and our actions. We must always be aware of the world outside of us. This is why I encourage the graduates of 2011 to inquire until our brains hurt and keep thinking critically. Learning doesn’t stop with this chapter of our lives. We are now released to shape the world with our actions and our words.”
UAS Regent Bob Martin also addressed the class of 2011 with a focus on looking to the future.
He gave candid advice on learning from the mistakes of others and being responsible citizens.
“Many years ago, back when I still knew everything, a dear friend told me, despite claims to the contrary, experience is not the best teacher,” he said. “Let the other guy learn from hard knocks and learn from his mistakes. Making good decisions comes from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.”
Martin said these graduates have taken a step toward being leaders.
“Keep track of your peers, help each other when you can,” he said. “The ability to help each other will be stronger.”
He said some of the students will become business leaders, legislators, engineers or contractors, doctors, lawyers or other professionals.
“It may be every more important for you to know them, and them to know you,” Martin said. “Well, expect maybe the lawyers.”
Martin’s daughter has a Juris Doctorate.
Martin urged students to not burn bridges needlessly, not make decisions when angry and to plan their anger — so that they can still make something positive happen.
Martin also encouraged creativity, problem finding, voting (even just for dinner), fairness and honesty.
“Don’t fear change,” he said. “I’m constantly amazed at how resistant people are to change. Learn to expect change, plan for it. You will have the advantage because most people are uncomfortable with change. Don’t fear failure. When the crash comes it’s generally a big one. Failure is part of the formula for success. You will learn from it, you will survive it.”
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