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Story last updated at 6:50 PM on Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nikolaevsk graduation mixes traditions, high-tech

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

At Nikolaevsk School's graduation ceremony, senior Pheodora Nikolaevna Bobkov acknowledges the support of her uncle and aunt, Dan and Luba Dorvall of Nikolaevsk, and then her parents, Father Nikolai and Marina Bobkov, who live in Ukraine.

Nikolaevsk's high school graduating class may have been small — only four students — but what it lacked it size it made up for in closeness as evidenced by the graduates' comments at the May 26 commencement ceremony.

And though the village is small — 356 residents as of 2010 — the afternoon ceremony reached to the other side of the world, thanks to a carefully placed laptop computer and Skype, a text, voice and video computer program.

"This is just a really diverse group, an eclectic mix of kids and interests. They're different in so many ways and it was interesting to see them pull together, the closeness at graduation," said Principal Mike Sellers.

Held in the gym or, as it is known in the village, "the Warrior dome," the ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by the school's third- and fourth-grade students. After an introduction of the eighth-grade graduates — Veronica Lee Jones, Kalina Marie Klaich and Scott James Trail — and comments by Klaich, the eighth-grade valedictorian, the focus turned to the seniors.

Their farewell comments included words of advice for each other, acknowledged the support of close friends and expressed appreciation for parents and family members seated in the front row.

Mark Matthew Fefelov and Matthew John Trail were the two longest-standing members of the class of 2011.

"Out of 13 in the kindergarten class, we're the only ones left," Trail said, directing the reminder to Fefelov.

Throughout the years, the two have made names for themselves as athletes and as scholars. In 2009, they were both on the starting line of Nikolaevsk's just-beginning cross country team. Having completed two summer institutes as required by Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula, Trail and Fefelov were invited to participate as teaching assistants in the program's 2010 summer program.

Trail has enlisted in the Air Force Reserves; Fefelov plans on attending Georgetown University in the fall, where his older brother, Vitali, also is enrolled.

After addressing each of his classmates and thanking his parents for their support, Trail closed with a heartfelt and tearful tribute to the late Jerry Bernhardt, a Nikolaevsk resident who died in October 2010. Bernhardt was a long-time substitute teacher who also taught a construction academy at Nikolaevsk School. Trail recalled during the academy learning from Bernhardt the satisfaction that comes from a job well done.

His words brought to mind those of Bernhardt when he was the Nikolaevsk commencement speaker in 2006: "You will be remembered for what you have done for others, rather than what you have."

"We all miss you, Mr. B," said an emotional Trail.

Like Trail, Fefelov, the class valedictorian, noted the years he and Trail had shared at Nikolaevsk School.

To his classmate Sarah Alexandra Holub, who joined the class during her sophomore year, he jokingly advised, "You must focus to learn, but you must learn to focus first."

Originally from Texas, Holub, the class salutatorian, plans to pursue a degree in elementary education through classes at Kenai Peninsula College.

"Don't let any of your fears or insecurities set you back," she told her classmates.

"You need to breathe a lot. ... Don't look at the big picture all the time."

Pheodora Nikolaevna Bobkov was the newest member of the Nikolaevsk graduating class. Her father is Father Nikolai Bobkov; her mother, Marina (Kalugin) Bobkov, was the first child born in Nikolaevsk, according to her uncle and Nikolaevsk resident Dan Dorvall.

The Bobkovs now live in Ukraine. Lacking Ukraine citizenship or residency status, however, Bobkov could not graduate there, so her parents had her complete her high school education in Nikolaevsk, living with Dorvall, his wife, Luba, and their family.

"I almost gave up," said Bobkov, of the challenges she faced during the past year. Thanking her aunt and uncle for making room for her in their home, she added, "But I made it and I'm going on."

Looking toward a computer that, with the help of Skype, allowed her parents to view the commencement ceremony," Bobkov said, "Thank you for being here with me in your hearts."

On Monday, Bobkov left Alaska to return to Ukraine and her family.

Other parts of the world also will be given glimpses of Nikolaevsk's graduation ceremony through the efforts of a Russian Reader's Digest film crew attending the commencement exercise. The Reader's Digest project focuses on the impact Russia has had beyond its borders. Earlier in the day, the five-member team spent time interviewing Nikolaevsk resident Nina Fefelov. (See related story, page 1.)

The commencement speaker, Palmer Bailey, who lives near the community, brought a wave of humor to the ceremony. Bailey, who has taught at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and has trained at NASA, was named the 2004-2005 Alaska High School Announcer of the Year by the National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers for his announcing of Nikolaevsk sporting events.

"Welcome to the Warrior dome," said Bailey, his loud and deep, announcer-type voice sparking cheers and applause from the crowd.

Drawing from his training in zero gravity, Bailey spoke of the importance of having an anchor from which to define right and wrong and develop wisdom.

"Learning a skill is not enough in life, is it? What you need is wisdom," said Bailey. Encouraging them to learn from others, he said, "Read widely. Study the news. Watch the outcome of other people's lives."

His words paralleled the class motto, taken from Dr. Seuss:

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go ..."

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