Bartlett seniors celebrate graduation after a challenging four years

Bartlett High School graduate Jasmine Ross pauses for a photo as she waits to walk across the stage. (Adam Nicely/Alaska Public Media)

More than 200 Bartlett High School seniors celebrated their graduation Monday night. They walked into the Alaska Airlines Center wearing blue caps and gowns with gold sashes and waved to family members in the stands.

It marked the conclusion of a high school experience bookended by two major events: the 2018 earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nearly every year here, we have faced some sort of uncontrollable, worldly challenge,” said valedictorian Lucy Atkinson.

Principal Sean Prince said the pandemic required students to remain flexible amid changing health mandates.

“You managed to demonstrate self-control as the rules of how to be in school changed daily,” he told the class.

Class speaker Kaitlin Rose Chua praised her class’s resilience and accomplishments.

“Throughout the year, I’ve seen my peers create small businesses that are flourishing with support throughout the school,” she said in her speech. “I’ve seen my peers win scholarship after scholarship to back up the big dreams they’ve had.”

Lucy Atkinson speaks as class valedictorian for the Bartlett High School graduation.
Valedictorian Lucy Atkinson speaks at the Bartlett High School graduation. (Adam Nicely/Alaska Public Media)

After the speeches, students received their diplomas and shook hands with Prince, Superintendent Deena Bishop and each of the school’s teachers.

Ken Tate teaches students with physical and cognitive disabilities. Three of them graduated from Bartlett this year, and Tate sat with them during the ceremony. He said online learning was a challenge for both teachers and students.

“We learned to do things we didn’t think we could do. We had to teach in ways we didn’t know we could teach,” he said after the ceremony. “To see these guys finish that journey means they’re being accepted as part of the Bartlett family, as part of the high school family.”

Eight of the district’s graduation ceremonies are being held at the Alaska Airlines Center. The pre-pandemic location, the Sullivan Arena, is currently being used as a homeless shelter. The district limited the number of tickets to six per student because of the smaller venue size.

A few families waited outside the arena during the ceremony because there weren’t enough tickets for all members to sit inside. They held banners with photos of their graduates and played music. 

Tusi Frost Brown was outside, ready to celebrate her twin nephews, Michael and Troy Ah Ching. She said she and her family from Hawaii wanted to show their support after a challenging four years.

“It was a rough time, with the pandemic, but we still had faith in them and encouraged them that life goes on,” she said. “I’m so proud of them and thank God for kids like them.”

Bartlett High School’s graduation was held at the Alaska Airlines Center this year. (Adam Nicely/Alaska Public Media)

This year also brought changes to the district’s cultural regalia policy. Previously, students were required to notify the district if they planned to wear cultural regalia. This year, that requirement was waived. Students could also wear headdresses instead of graduation caps.

Jasmine Ross wore a Dena’ina Athabascan stole adorned with red and white beaded flowers.

“It means a lot to my family,” she said. “We’ve been through a lot these past few years. Being able to show my heritage has been a great opportunity, and I’m glad to show it with pride.”

After the ceremony, students greeted family members outside the arena, where they took photos, donned floral and candy leis and popped confetti.

Graduation ceremonies continue throughout the next three weeks. The ceremonies held at the Alaska Airlines Center will also be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube page.

A Bartlett High School graduate waits to walk across the stage.
A Bartlett High School graduate waits to walk across the stage. (Adam Nicely/Alaska Public Media)

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