Graduation is a door they have opened and will walk through, and it's one of many, state Sen. Kim Elton told the Juneau-Douglas High School Class of 2003 at commencement ceremonies Saturday afternoon.
"You'll find it is never the door that defines you. What defines you is whether you will open them," Elton, a JDHS 1966 grad, told 375 graduating seniors and their families in the school gym. " ... Not opening doors, not being curious, standing still - it's never going to work for you because right now the volume of knowledge is doubling every 18 months."
It was the 99th and largest high school graduating class in Juneau's history, school officials said.
And graduating from high school is still a big deal, parents and students said before the ceremony.
"Very much so," said parent Jim Andersen. "It's a benchmark in life. It still is, even in this day and age."
"We're just happy and hope she's ready for the next stage in her future," said Brenda Anderson of her daughter, Kara White.
Whitney Harding, one of the two student speakers at commencement, told the audience: "I have been debating whether I'm supposed to be happy or sad today. Is it all right if I cry?"
Harding thanked parents for "walking us to the bus the first day of kindergarten ... and (now) letting go of our hands, confident we can find our way."
For Kathryn Brownlee, graduation "means I'm starting a life."
Brownlee, 18, will study marine biology at the University of Hawaii in Hilo because she wants to work with whales.
"I'm scared to leave, but then again, I want to leave," she said.
For Chelsea Martin, 18, graduation will lead to "starting something new," she said.
Martin, who uses a wheelchair, is moving with her mother to California, where the temperate weather makes it easier to get around. She intends, after spending a year at a community college, to study psychology at Sonoma State University.
"I guess I just like to learn about the way people's minds work, what makes them do things," Martin said.
"From freshman year to 12th grade, she really matured a lot," said Martin's mother, Kathleen Soga. "Senior year was a really exciting time because it was an end and a new beginning beyond that."
For Adrienne Hosiner, 18, leaving high school means taking a job, any job, at least until she goes to college. Graduation represents "entering adulthood and having more responsibilities," she said.
"Independence," her friend Martin added.
"You don't have to wake up first thing in the morning and go to school," Hosiner said, brightening.
Darren Austin, wearing a bib he made depicting his Raven Beaver Tlingit ancestry, said high school was "a little challenging." He plans to study carpentry at a college in Southeast Alaska.
"It feels really great to finish high school. I thought it was going to be hard, but I made it through," Austin, 19, said.
Kenny Loken, 17, described graduation as "quite a big step in my life. I'm glad I got here."
School was hard work, but he said teachers in the CHOICE program for at-risk students were a big help. He plans to study diesel mechanics at UAS.
Christy Ericksen, the other student speaker at commencement, told the audience that plans for the future are like T-shirts.
"You can't know you like a T-shirt until you try it on," she said. " ... If you remember one thing from my speech, know this: You can change T-shirts."
The valedictorians, who are students with 4.0 grade point averages, are: Carl Brodersen, Raul Chimelir, Christine Fagnant, Christopher Frank, Gabriel Hayden, David Ignell, Sonja McLemore, Sophie Spencer, Amy Truax, Karl Twelker and Mary Wilcock. The salutatorian, the student with the next highest GPA, is Colin Conerton, at 3.9762. In all, 68 students graduated with honors, with a GPA of at least 3.5.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.