Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 9:46 PM on Wednesday, May 11, 2011

'You can get anywhere'

KBC grads receive advice, encouragement as they celebrate academic achievements

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Mary Epperson, recipient of the University of Alaska Meritorious Service Award, receives flowers and congratulations from Maddie Bowen.

Degrees conferred, a meritorious service award given and a new University of Alaska president in attendance. The May 4 commencement ceremony for Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, was an event to remember.

"We are gathered to celebrate and honor your academic achievements," said KBC Director Carol Swartz, who has been at the campus for 25 years.

The KBC graduates included those who had completed studies for general education development diplomas, certification programs for nurse aid and welding, associates of arts degrees, associate of applied science degrees and bachelor of arts degrees through programs at University of Alaska campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Southeast.

Focusing on the students' degree-seeking journey, the commitment needed and the challenges overcome, Swartz drew from the words of poet and author Maya Angelo: "I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity, is daring to dare."

"Your friends, your family and the community have every right to be proud of you," Swartz said. "Please know you do have the power to make a difference."

Representing outgoing UAA Chancellor Fran Ulmer and incoming chancellor Tom Case, Bill Spindle, UAA vice chancellor, urged the students to savor the moment, recognize it as unique and consider their next goal.

"Now the question is where do you go from here," said Spindle.

Before the students took to the stage to receive their degrees, Patrick Gamble, who became the university's 13th president on May 1, 2011, took the opportunity to acknowledge their success.

"Like so many others, I like to be around winners. It feels good when someone excels," said Gamble.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

GED graduate Robert Wheeler receives congratulations from his son, Micah, 2, following Wednesday evening's commencement ceremonies for the Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage.

After earning a bachelor of arts in mathematics at Texas A&M University, Gamble received a master of business administration from Auburn University, Alabama. He served as a fighter pilot in the U.S, Air Force and retired as a four-star general and as commander of the U.S. Air Forces in the Pacific Region. His military assignments included director of NATO operations and logistics. He served as commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy and was commander of two fighter wings and commander of the U.S. Air Base Wing on Okinawa, Japan. He is the recipient of two Defense Distinguished Service Medals, two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before coming to the university, Gamble spent nine years as president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Railroad Corporation.

Likening life's successes to a series of ladders, Gamble urged the students to celebrate their accomplishments, but not lose sight of the path still before them.

"When you get to the top of something, you're at the bottom of the next thing. You've got to decide what's the next ladder. ... It'll never be any better than this until you get to the top of the next ladder," he said.

In closing, he added, "We need you out there. ... This state needs you bad. ... The country may need you bad. ... If you keep climbing, you'll find that next ladder."

Valedictorian Katie Bauer, who received an associate of arts degree, as well as an associate of applied science degree in paramedicine from UAF, shared life lessons she learned by listening to stories told by her maternal grandfather, Edward Joe Hatfield Jr., who died March 14.

With the horrific, life-threatening conditions he experienced during World War II and the Korean Conflict as a backdrop, Bauer said she learned that with hard work and dedication, "you can get anywhere." From his accounts, she also "learned to surround yourself with people who make you a better person."


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Valedictorian Katie Bauer, right, celebrates with her parents, Adam and PJ Bauer, following commencement ceremonies for Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage. Bauer received an associate of arts and a University of Alaska Fairbanks associate of applied scence in paramedicine.

Drawing from another source, Bauer closed by quoting Audrey Hepburn: "Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.'"

Receiving the UA Meritorious Service Award this year was Homer resident and KBC advisory board member Mary Epperson. Bestowed by Gamble and Mary K. Hughes and Kirk Wickersham, both of the UA Board of Regents, the award was given "in recognition of (Epperson's) vitality and commitment to community service, higher education, life-long learning and the arts."

Epperson and her husband, Jack, came to the Kenai Peninsula in 1954. She served as the city's clerk-treasurer for 18 years, retiring in 1971. Epperson is known for her passionate support of arts education, as well as her dedication to teaching and performing music. She is a founding member of the Homer Council on the Arts and the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, and is one of several founding trustees of the Homer Community Foundation. She has served on the Kachemak Bay Campus Advisory Board since 1985.

In 1988, Epperson received the Governor's Award for the Arts, she was Homer's Citizen of the Year in 2004 and Mayor James Hornaday proclaimed May 24, 2010, "Mary Epperson Day."

After being handed the microphone, the diminutive and soft-spoken Epperson gave credit to others for their efforts and support.

"You don't think I did this all by myself, do you?" she said.

Finally, it was KPC Director Gary Turner's turn at the microphone, and his opening remarks drew laughs.

"Every year I'm the last speaker and I have to follow the likes of this — the president and Mary," said Turner.

Reminding the graduates that their quest for learning "does not end here," Turner closed by saying, "I hope we have prepared you for your entry into the larger community of learners."

In honor of Epperson's contributions, the Kachemak Bay Campus Advisory Board has begun the Mary Epperson Campus Support and Scholarship Fund within the University of Alaska Foundation to enhance programs and support future students. For more information or to contribute, write to the University of Alaska Foundation's KBC Mary Epperson Support and Scholarship Fund, 533 E. Pioneer Ave., Homer, AK 99603.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben. jackinsky@homernews.com.