Laughter, sentimental tears, and applause filled the upstairs of Land’s End Resort at the Homer Flex High School graduation ceremony Monday. Graduates were celebrated and congratulated by family, friends, staff and former Flex High School students on the challenging and fulfilling journey now coming to an end.
The processional of students was accompanied by a duet from Laura Norton on the clarinet and Peter Norton on the trombone. Following were speeches from Flex Principal Karen Wessel and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District staff, including Liz Downing, school board vice president, Dr. Steve Atwater, KPBSD superintendent.
Teacher Jeff Szarzi retires from Flex High school this summer after working 16 years at the school, teaching subjects including math, science and wood shop and, more recently, ceramics.
During his last Flex High School graduation as staff, Szarzi presented each graduate with a pottery mug symbolizing the students’ transformation from their start at Flex to their graduation.
“It was a metaphor for the idea that when they first came to Flex they were the pottery vessel unformed, not knowing yet their purpose. As they created themselves, and as (the staff) helped create them they became a shape that has purpose,” he said. “I gave the pieces to the students as eomentos in the hope that they can remember a time where they were resilient and they overcame adversity inside and outside of school.”
Graduate Drew Shepard was awarded the Kachemak Board of Realtors Scholarship, the Homer Emblem Club No. 350 and the Homer Elks Lodge scholarship. He is attending the Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward in the fall, which he has planned for since sophomore year.
Shepard gave credit to his family who he said all worked together to help him graduate.
“I wouldn’t have made it without them,” said Shepard.
His attending family included his nine-year-old cousin, Jadyn Seifert, who took the opportunity to congratulate Shepard when the microphone was being passed in the audience.
“He should be very happy that he graduated,” said Seifert of his older cousin. “He helps me when I get stuck on stuff in school. He’s been really nice to me.”
Ivy Lynn Gary, who will attend the certified nursing assistant course at Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, in September said one of her biggest accomplishments during high school was attending Anchorage Military Youth Academy during her junior year.
She expressed excitement to be released from the everyday schedule of school, as well as appreciation for the close-knit graduation class.
“Everyone at Flex is really close. Everyone gets along really well,” she said.
Sonarae Breanna John, who is considering college at University of Alaska Fairbanks, said students and faculty forge close bonds.
“Flex is like a family. Everyone gets along, and everyone fits in,” she said, offering encouragement to newly enrolling students at Flex.
“You’ve got to work hard, even though all the work may seem overwhelming at first,” she said, “You’ll get through it.”
Alannah Christa-Lynn Campbell, who plans to pursue her passion of photography either full- or part-time depending on the second career she chooses, warned incoming Flex students of the rut of simply going with the motions.
“There will be ups and downs, but don’t take high school for granted. Make sure you make something out of your experience,” she said.
Campbell said she was relieved and proud of herself because she wasn’t sure at the beginning of the year if she would graduate. She was able to combine almost two years during her senior year.
Her younger sister, Crystal Campbell, acknowledged her sister’s effort when the microphone was circulating.
“She bloomed like a flower. I’m so proud of her and I love her,” she said.
Campbell said she and her younger sister are close.
“We go through ups and downs together and fight battles side by side,” said Campbell.
Desirae Lynn Tangman hopes to commercial fish this summer so she can go to Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward in the fall.
She recognized how many supportive sources were involved in her graduation.
“There are too many to thank. My family, my friends, Homer Flex High School staff and the Community Mental Health Center staff helped me achieve all my goals,” she said.
Wessel emphasized the ownership students have at Flex, from being involved in new teacher hiring to regulating their own academic performance to helping plan daily activities.
Laura Norton is retiring from Homer Flex, and, along with Szarzi, will be officially recognized at an upcoming faculty dinner.
Shannon Reid is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
Flex School Class of 2014
Alannah Christa-Lynn Campbell
Benson Woodard Eldon
Ivy Lynn Gary
Sonarae Breanna John
Rayce Carlos Johnson
Meghan Kathleen Stanish
Desirae Lynn Tangman