Alaska quest turns Boston teens into recorders of state history

Juneau Color

Posted: Friday, February 09, 2001

If not for a photo on the Internet showing a panoramic view of Juneau, two women from Boston might not be here running cameras for KTOO-TV.

One year ago, Emily Higgins and Kaitlyn Greenidge, both 19, were like thousands of other teen-agers across the country. Both were struggling through their first year of college, trying to adjust to new cities and new faces.

Although the high school buddies from Boston went to separate colleges, they kept in touch, and one day they realized they were both unhappy.

"Montreal is a stressful city and my nerves were really frayed," said soft-spoken Higgins, who attended college in Canada. "I called her up one night, and I think I just asked her if she wanted to move to Alaska."

"I realized I didn't like New York City," said Greenidge, who went to Barnard College in the Big Apple. "I was up for going anywhere as long as it wasn't Boston or New York."

But where would they go in Alaska? The teens didn't have a clue, and even today they're not entirely sure why they fixed on Juneau. However, Higgins points to a Web site featuring a 360-degree photograph of the capital city as a major selling point.

"That might have been the reason," she said.

Last September, they stuffed their backpacks with clothes and flew to Washington state, where they planned to stay a couple of days, then take an Alaska ferry north. They figured the ferries made plenty of stops there and they could catch one at their leisure. They were still at the Seattle airport when they discovered the vessels stopped only once a week in Bellingham and one was scheduled to leave within hours, Greenidge said. The ferry was pulling away from the dock as the teens ran into the terminal, and the captain turned back to let them on, she said.

The teens stayed at the Juneau Youth Hostel for a month, and eventually KTOO-TV hired them to run cameras for the program Gavel-to-Gavel, which shows live footage of the Legislature. The women had never used commercial television equipment before, but they have learned, and chances are one of them is framing the shots viewers see when they tune to Juneau's equivalent of C-SPAN.

"I need to improve a lot - I'm always bumping into the camera from behind," said Greenidge. "I try to play it off like it's somebody from the audience, but usually it's me," she said, laughing.

A novice to politics, Greenidge was surprised to see "how close all the legislators are to each other ... and their good working relationships." Although she was considering a career in sociology, her Alaska adventure has made her think more broadly about career options. Greenidge said she plans to leave the state eventually and give college another try.

Higgins might stick around longer because she's curious to see other towns - perhaps towns similar to her birthplace. Although she went to high school in Boston, she spent most of her life in Paradise River, a tiny village in Canada. The town of about 50 as inaccessible by road - the village itself had no roads and no cars. The collapse of a commercial fishery there prompted many people to leave, and the local school dwindled to four students and closed, Higgins said. By the time her family moved to Boston, the postal plane had stopped delivering mail and the community had shriveled to only half a dozen people.

Higgins said one of the reasons she gravitated toward Alaska is she thought it would be similar to the quiet hometown she has lost. She plans to go back to college, but probably not until she puts more miles on her traveling shoes, she said.

"If I have any money left over at the end of all this, maybe I'll look around the rest of the state a little bit. It would be really nice to go to Unalaska."

Kathy Dye can be reached at

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