For Mikaela Rodriguez, lessons learned at Juneau-Douglas High School went far beyond books and exams.
"It wasn't about the periodic table or math skills," she said of the high school experience. "It was about learning how to get along with our peers, dealing with authority, managing our time and striking out on our own."
Rodriguez and 380 of her senior classmates walked across a stage and into the rest of their lives Sunday as JDHS graduated the Class of 2004.
The graduating class was the 100th - and largest - in school history.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho gave the commencement address 38 years after he graduated from the school. He told the graduates to learn how to overcome obstacles to find success - "civilization has made no advance without trial and error" - and to protect the dignity of people they meet.
"Some encounters (in life) will be fleeting; some will be enduring," he said. "Between them, they will draw upon your full range of emotions.
"Treating (everyone) with dignity will inevitably bring out the best in them, and in you."
Botelho also advised the Class of 2004 to follow their hearts when faced with tough choices.
"That path leads to the fewest regrets, and the greatest likelihood of happiness," he said.
Student speaker Patricia Kalbrener reminded her peers how they had "battled valiantly" through "126 months behind a desk (and) 3,780 days under an alternative government." She told them never to forget their unique school experiences - such as recess, rusty lockers and Frito Pies.
Rebecca Gaguine - the other student speaker and "member of every club known to man," according to her introduction - charted her class' journey from elementary school through the "dark ages" of middle school and, finally, to JDHS.
"After 13 years, we've grown a lot," she said. "You can all remember that one teacher who wouldn't let you fail, friends you've gained, friends you've lost ..."
Rodriguez, who will pursue a degree in environmental studies at California's Scripps College in the fall, arrived at the ceremony with friend and fellow senior Mindy Roberts.
Roberts plans to take a year off before attending college - possibly at Southern Oregon University. No matter what may come, she said, she feels prepared.
"I think you develop a lot of strength in high school," Roberts said. "You learn how to cope with the everyday challenges in life."
Chris Stewart will face some not-so-everyday challenges after graduation, as he heads to California to enter the Marine Corps.
"I'm excited, and glad to get out of here," he said. "All the hard work has paid off."
"Two down and one to go," Chris' mother, Sue, said of seeing her middle child graduate. Though high school commencement is still emotional, she said "it's a lot easier the second time around."
Chris Radach is also joining the Marines. He'll head to California in August.
"I'm happy it's over - no more teachers," Radach said of high school. But, he added, "the thing I have to look forward to now is drill instructors."
Radach was not the only graduate to comprehend the many challenges the Class of 2004 will face.
"(Graduating) feels pretty good, like a big burden is being lifted - but a new one is being put on," said Josh Stark, who will attend junior college in Texas and hopes to transfer to Texas A&M to study psychology.
Taryl Cordova plans to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage next fall. Her mother, Lorraine, said she hopes Sunday's commencement won't be the last for her daughter.
"I'm glad that this part is over, and I'm hoping we can do it again in another four years," she said.
Four students graduated with 4.0 grade-point averages - Alida Bus, Bryan Diebels, Robyn Grayson and Benjamin Robinson. In addition, 83 students graduated with honors, having maintained a GPA of at least 3.5.
The senior class gift is a replacement of the exterior Crimson Bear mural once visible to drivers inbound on Egan Drive. The old mural was salvaged during recent renovations, but was found to be in poor condition.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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