‘Alaskans’ preparing for the future

University of Alaska Southeast celebrates 2018 graduates

Marie Olson receives her Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters from Chancellor Richard Caulfield, right, and Regent Dale Anderson during University of Alaska Southeast 47th Annual Commencement Ceremony in the UAS Recreation Center on Sunday, May 6, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sea cucumbers and kelp may not be the usual topics brought up at a college commence ceremony, but when graduation is in Alaska, that all changes.


Both of those Alaska products were part of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s, R-Alaska, “cool stuff” portion of her speech given to the University of Alaska Southeast 2018 graduating class at the UAS Recreation Center Sunday afternoon.

“We are looking to the extraordinary potential of sea cucumbers could hold into cures for cancer and other diseases,” Murkowski said. “Kelp is cool. Many of you know the owners of Barnacle Foods, Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. They are making kelp pickles and kelp salsa. They are making things happen.”

[PHOTOS: UAS Graduation 2018]

She spoke that while there in division in the state over some issues, there is also a unity that cannot be had anywhere else.

“You can overcome any obstacle, just as thousands of other Alaskans have done,” Murkowski said. “Remember if you want to get something done, if you want to make things happen, just ask an Alaskan to do it. You are going to make it happen.”

Murkowski added that because of the state of the United States right now, heading into their next phase of life may seem difficult to students, but that they are all members of an exclusive club.

“Across the nation, it seems that Americans are as divided as ever before with politics, religion and race,” she said. “Sometimes it seems our American families can’t agree on anything at all. You have a lot in front of you and that would make the average person worry. Life can be daunting, but my refrigerator magnet message to you today is, “Be not afraid.” Because if you were born here, raised here or you came here by choice, you are an Alaskan. We are innovators, we are problem solvers, we are creative. It didn’t begin with this generation, it began tens of thousands of years ago.”

Student commencement speakers Erin Ohlson and Blake Fletcher also spoke to their fellow graduates about what they have learned and what the future holds for them.

“I feel extremely indebted to the university,” Fletcher, Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, said. “I want to take what I have drawn from my rich relations with faculty and with my peers and carry that forward.”

Ohlson, who graduated with a Master’s in Public Administration, encouraged her fellow graduates to stand and make noise to honor all those who were celebrated Sunday. Ohlson then asked everyone else in attendance to give support to the graduates.

“Graduates, I want to try to remember this feeling you have right now,” Ohlson said. “I want you to remember all the people here today that care about you and cannot wait to see what you do next,” Ohlson said.

UAS Chancellor Richard A. Caulfield also spoke to the graduates on the opportunities that are given to anyone who has chosen to study in the state, and in particular Juneau.

“Where else can you study and have a glacier in your backyard?” Caulfield asked.

Caulfield also added that the school works hard to provide students an education for jobs now and in the future.

“We are preparing our students today for jobs that may not have even been created yet,” Caulfield said.

Those in attendance Sunday were also part of a special introductory dance from the Woosh.ji.een dance group as graduates made their way into the center to cheers and applause.

This year’s complete graduation class included 410 associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees, 128 certificates and professional licensures, and 174 occupational endorsements from the Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka campuses.

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.


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