Brian Nowlin and Jesse Stringer arrived for the Juneau-Douglas High School commencement Saturday by scooter, after driving to a parking space on a nearby hill.
"Just memories," Nowlin said. "Fun times and just having fun."
With one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood, Nowlin and Stringer joined about 360 other graduating seniors for the 98th high school commencement in Juneau's history.
Sgt. Rich Mack of the New York City police department, who gave the commencement address, told students that "too many people have died for this country for you to settle in your life and accept less than you want."
Three Juneau police officers, a Ketchikan firefighter and a Juneau psychologist met Mack when they visited New York in October to help emergency personnel cope with the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Mack asked the crowd in the high school gym for a moment of silence, then, wearing his dress white gloves, saluted the graduates.
He said of the 400-plus firefighters and peace officers who died trying to help people out of the World Trade Center towers: "The greatest living memorial we can bestow on those who are gone is to live life to the fullest. My first advice to the Class of 2002 is to live well."
Student speaker Annie Fox told the class, "We all deserve to be happy and laugh. We all deserve to cry. We all deserve to have a good time tonight and for the rest of our lives."
Student speaker Kari Urata said students will miss the school sign next to the basketball hoop, Assistant Principal Dale Staley telling them to get to class, ceiling tiles raining down on them, librarians shushing them, kicking their broken lockers to get them to open - and their friends.
Urata asked students to stand and tell their parents and guardians that they love them, and they did. And she asked the adults to tell the students that they forgive them and love them, and they did.
Graduation is as much a marker in the lives of parents as it is for the students.
"It's almost bittersweet," said Jana Heard, whose son Justin was graduating. "It's exciting for the kids to start on this new phase of their lives, but it's kind of sad to see the past end."
Justin, who will attend the University of Alaska Southeast for a year and stay in a dorm, is leaving home "except when laundry needs to be done or he's really hungry."
"Dread," said Steve Hernandez, when asked how he feels about his daughter, Heather, graduating and going to college in Hawaii. He may have been kidding.
"It's more of a step up for her. It's a new frontier for us and her. In a couple of months she's going to be leaving home and going to college. We're not going to see her until Christmas."
Hernandez figures he'll be buying a lot of calling cards.
"We've lost a daughter, but we've gained an adult," he said, and thought. "We're losing our tax write-off is what we're losing."
Graduate Edward McMurray, who will attend UAS, said he expects to keep in touch with his high school friends.
"I'm ready for the real world, small step as it is (to college). It's not like the leap from college, when you're on your own," he said.
"It's a little disconcerting and a little sad" to leave high school friends, said Michael Petershoare, who will study at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. "But I'm going to be making new best friends in college, so it should be good," he said.
For other graduates, it's a big relief to be out of high school.
"I'm just glad I'm out of it," said Amy Oyloe, who will study interior design at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. Why glad? "Because it's school. It's just work and not getting paid for it."
Melanie Rodriguez, who attended the CHOICE program at JDHS for students at risk of dropping out, and YaaKoosge Daakahidi alternative high school, said she was excited about graduating and never doubted she'd make it. She'll work for a while in town to save money for college to study accounting.
Assistant Principal Laury Scandling, who taught in CHOICE until this year, snapped pictures before the commencement ceremony of Rodriguez and other CHOICE students who were graduating.
"I take a picture of every graduate and I make posters and I put them on a door in the fall," Scandling said. "I want them to know they can graduate."
She also tells each graduate that he or she was one of her favorite students "because they were all one of my favorite students."
Craig Mapes, who teaches construction and architectural drafting and design, said graduation is the high point of the year.
"Most teachers are in business to work with students, and it is really rewarding to see the students go on to their future endeavors," he said.
The Class of 2002 valedictorians, with all A's, are: Lia Carpeneti, Brittany Dick, Jessica Hadfield, Claire Imamura, Cassie Iutzi-Mitchell, Libby MacKinnon, Maria Melambianakis, and Emily Smith. The salutatorian, with the next highest grade-point average is Kelsey Sturrock.
The class gift was to restore a school banner that had been stolen and was returned damaged.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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