Linda Scott waited 40 years to return to school, so receiving her master's degree in elementary education Sunday during the University of Alaska Southeast's commencement ceremony marked the culmination of a long-time dream.
The 61-year-old teacher, who worked as a third-grade intern at Harborview Elementary School this school year, said that despite her age, she expected the diploma to open doors for her.
"I promised my parents, who are both dead, that I'd finish, so this is a deep honor to my parents," Scott said as she waited with about 100 other graduates to enter the Charles Gamble Jr.-Donald Sperl Joint Use hall for the ceremony.
She said she plans to eventually teach in the Bush.
The university handed out a record number of degrees Sunday - 348 compared to 276 last year - for the 37th commencement ceremony. The number of Native Alaskan students earning degrees this year also hit a record.
"I'm very excited," said Joshua Jackson, a Tlingit from Kake who allowed his love for children to guide his pursuit of a bachelor's degree in elementary education. "This is a culmination of all my years of hard work, really."
The 23-year-old plans to teach in either Juneau or Kake, and said he hopes to continue instructing in Tlingit cultural programs when he leads his own class next school year.
"It will be exiting to see what my own classroom can bring," he said.
During a long speech opening the ceremony, Chancellor John Pugh drew multiple bouts of laughter from the packed audience of about 800 as he highlighted diverse accomplishments among the students.
He apologized that he couldn't tell each student's story, adding that "our stories are what define us."
The total number of degrees awarded for the 2007-08 academic year included 125 graduate, 136 undergraduate and 87 associate degrees, plus more than 80 occupational endorsements and certificates.
Artist, naturalist and author Ray Troll, whose murals hang in public spaces and schools around Southeast Alaska, was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts on Sunday for his unique ability to combine art and science.
Also recognized were Katie Jensen and Aaron Elmore, who received meritorious service awards for distinguished contributions to the performing arts as Theatre in the Rough founders, performers and designers.
Keynote speaker and Juneau native Father Stephen Sundborg told graduates that their experiences in Alaska will define their future and the future of the state as it heads into its second half-century of statehood.
"You can leave Juneau and leave Alaska, but Juneau and Alaska will never leave you," he said. "This place is the most formative place of your life. Let it shape the geography of your spirit and the kind of person you become."
Sundborg left Juneau 50 years ago after finishing his freshman year at Juneau-Douglas High School, but said Sunday that the area's creeks and rivers are what shaped his soul.
He has served as president of Seattle University sine 1997.
"If you leave Alaska, don't worry, take it from me, Alaska will never leave you," he said to applause.
• Contact reporter Kim Marquisat 523-2279 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.