UAS Commencement to highlight Native cultures

Tlingit heritage a focus as 620 get degrees on Sunday

The University of Alaska Southeast on Sunday will graduate more than 600 students.

Among the highlights of Sunday’s commencement ceremony, the 41st in the school’s history, will be hearing from student speaker Crystal Rogers along with commencement speaker Mayor Bruce Botelho.

It was personal tragedy that brought Rogers home to Juneau, and to UAS. She returned to be closer to her mother as her mother was dying of terminal cancer. Home in Juneau, however, Rogers got the opportunity to excel in the study of Tlingit language.

Rogers is receiving her Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree in independent design, focusing on the art, language, government and history of indigenous and Western societies in Alaska, with a minor in Tlingit.

She was the first person in the college to be able to design a liberal arts major for herself, combining some of the university’s premier programs.

Her work to do that impressed not one, but several professors.

“Crystal has shown outstanding determination while facing tremendous odds,” said Lance Twitchell, an assistant professor of Alaska Native languages.

Rogers’ mother died in 2010, but she was able to focus her efforts on her studies.

She told the school that it was a “blessing in disguise” to have the classes UAS offered available to her.

Her professors said they were blessed to have her as a student.

“I have not seen a student who works harder to expand her ability to learn, speak, and understand one of the world’s most complicated and endangered languages,” Twitchell said.

Rogers is the leading Tlingit language learner, said Research Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages Alice Teff.

She said Rogers will give a “meaningful, memorable commencement address.

Also on the agenda for Sunday is the awarding of an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree to John Borbridge Jr., a statesman, elder and history maker.

In 1965, after having spent 10 years as a teacher at Sheldon Jackson High School in Sitka and Juneau-Douglas High School in Juneau, Borbridge began working for Alaska Native land rights as the first president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

Also honored at the ceremony will be 16 outstanding graduates selected by the faculty from the schools of Arts and Sciences, Management and Career Education.

A total of 620 students will receive masters, bachelors and associates degrees, as well as certificates and occupational endorsements. There will be Friday and Saturday ceremonies in Sitka and Ketchikan for students in those communities, but 529 graduates are at the Juneau campus.

The 2 p.m. ceremony is open to the public, and is held at the Charles Gamble Jr.-Donald Sperl Joint Use Facility, also know as the Rec Center. Parking and shuttle service is available from the Auke Lake Campus.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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