Grads feel ready for a bigger world

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

If all goes well in their final exams, 366 students will graduate from Juneau-Douglas High School on Saturday. And then they'll scatter.

Alex Gagne-Hawes, 18, said he'll work for Juneau Trolley Car Co. this summer, before entering Reed College in Portland, Ore., to study theater production.

"Acting's too subjective. Production is there," he said.

Gagne-Hawes won a scholarship to Reed, a selective school known for the independent spirit of its students. While at JDHS, he co-founded the underground online paper The Jive-Turkey.

His twin sister, Anna Gagne-Hawes, said she will attend the University of Alaska Southeast for a year, then study in France through UAS, then study acting at a school such as New York University.

"I just love it," she said of acting. "The thing I like about acting is you can just become somebody else for a little while. You can step out of yourself."

Anna co-wrote two plays for the student theater festival about, as she put it, "high school relationships and how ridiculous they are, because we have a lot of experience with ridiculous high school relationships."

Among other theatrical experiences, she was in the chorus in the spring musical "Damn Yankees."

"Movable scenery," Alex helpfully explained.

For Alex, high school was a time to learn how to fit in, after doing things his own way in middle school.

"I was steering my own course, and I accepted there were islands in the ocean. If you don't accept they're there - crunch," he said.

Anna said high school was a good place to learn to be assertive.

"If people felt I was too much, it was their problem, not mine," she said.

Ericka Love, 18, followed a meandering route to her high school degree, from JDHS' regular program to the CHOICE program for at-risk students to Yaakoosge Daakahidi, the alternative high school.

In freshman year Love was skipping classes so often, she didn't think she'd ever graduate.

"I just didn't get along well with the teachers," Love said. "I learn very differently from other people, and the teachers weren't very good at explaining it to me."

She credits the CHOICE program with keeping her in school through junior year, after which she enrolled in Yaakoos. CHOICE stands for Choosing Healthy Options in Cooperative Education.

CHOICE "was good because I felt more like the teachers wanted me to be there, the teachers wanted me to graduate," Love said. "They were really patient explaining things to me."

She said teachers at Yaakoos, such as Joyce Thoresen, have a similar style.

Love "has amazing persistence and follow-through," Thoresen said. "She is invested in learning and has developed a real interest and aptitude in science."

After graduation, Love will visit her grandmother in Spokane, Wash., and think about joining the military.

"So I can get in shape," she said. "I personally think I need it so I can face the daily life. I feel I need to get me more independent. Kind of like a break, because I depend on my parents a lot," she said.

Sandrenia Katasse, 18, said she'll be the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She plans to join the Air Force.

"It's just like the whole discipline you got to have interested me," she said. "I think it's just because people say I can't do it. So I just want to prove them wrong."

Katasse was a member of the JDHS Early Scholars Program for Native students, the volleyball team and the student council. Early Scholars encourages students to think about college and helps prepare them for it. They take some courses at UAS and visit colleges during spring break.

"It kind of took over my life," she said.

If Katasse doesn't enter the military she might study political science at the University of Alaska. She and her friends have talked about how few Natives hold high positions in government. She has joked with them about becoming governor, then a member of Congress, then president.

"Big dreams," she said with a laugh.

Social studies teacher Paula Dybdahl, who mentors students in the Early Scholars Program, said Katasse "sets her sights on something and refuses to quit until she completes the task."

Brice Habeger, 19, will drive a van for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska in Juneau over the summer, then study filmmaking at Columbia College, an arts school, in Chicago.

"I feel really confident," he said. "Most people are: 'big school, big city, small-town kid,' but I feel it's a whole new adventure. You can't hide from the world."

Habeger, who makes digital videos with his friends, said he grew up loving movies such as "Star Wars."

He wants to tell stories.

"Everyone loves good stories, I think," he said. "I love good stories. I would sit down and read stories that make you go, 'Wow.' That's what attracted me - trying to make my own stories so people would go, 'I never thought of it that way.' "

Habeger's class presentations are always unique and "show a lot of effort way and beyond," social studies teacher Gary Lehnhart said.

Habeger is motivated not by grades but because he has a vision, Lehnhart said.

"He's constantly looking for a unique lens to show some person or event or issue through," he said.

"I knew my whole life I wanted to make movies, so I'm following my dream," Habeger said.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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