More than 620 University of Alaska Southeast graduates from three campuses are celebrating their degrees.
Graduation ceremonies were held over the weekend at the UAS Sitka, Ketchikan and Juneau campuses to award masters, bachelors and associates’ degrees as well as certificates and occupational endorsements. Seven doctorates in fisheries from the University of Alaska Fairbanks program located in Juneau also were awarded.
Sunday’s Juneau campus commencement was the 41st since the formation of the University of Alaska Southeast. As Chancellor John Pugh noted, UAS became a regional university only 25 years ago.
“When we folded in the community college system with the senior college system there was a lot discussion, a lot of heated debate about was that a good idea or not,” Pugh recalled. “And being in Sitka (Friday ceremony) and Ketchikan (Saturday) and now Juneau today for this graduation, I just want to say I think it’s working, it’s working well, and it really has benefited the communities and the citizens of Southeast Alaska.”
The Juneau campus has continued to grow and this year’s graduating class of 529 is the largest in its history. About a quarter actually came to the ceremonies. Many are distance education students, some have been taking classes on other U-A campuses or at other universities, others just don’t attend. Pugh said 64 percent of the 2012 graduates are women and 36 percent men.
“Eighty-seven percent of them are Alaskans from all other Alaska,” Pugh said. “You know we have 23 other states represented today, and we have an age range from 19 to 63, with a median age of 30.”
Commencement speaker Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho – whose son graduated with an associate’s degree – gave a history lesson.
He went back 100 years to 1912, when Juneau was the seat of Alaska territorial government and a mining town. It was a year of progress for the territory. Congress had granted the Alaska territory a small, but first step toward home rule; working conditions began to improve, and the Alaska Native Brotherhood was formed.
Botelho used the example to challenge every graduate to play a role in shaping the conditions that surround them.
“Whether you’re in diesel technology or teaching, construction or chemistry, the certificates and degrees you receive today are your special license to help shape contemporary society,” Botelho said. “The purpose of your education is not driven simply to advance the interests of each of you individually, but to advance the society of which you are a part.”
Student speaker Crystal Rogers stuck at similar chord. She received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree in Independent Design, with a focus on art, language, government and history. A fluent Tlingit speaker, Rogers’ minor was in Tlingit language.
The word Tlingit, she said, means “human being.”
“You have all fulfilled something here today, but you are not done. And the way you will continue to be fulfilled is to use the gifts that you have received to care for those around you,” Rogers said.
Tlingit elder John Borbridge, Jr., of Juneau, received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from UAS for his work on behalf of Alaska Natives. Borbridge was instrumental in the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971.
At the University of Alaska Anchorage Sunday, Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl, also of Juneau, received an Honorary Doctor of Sciences. Former Gov. Tony Knowles and recently retired Providence Health Systems CEO Al Parrish were awarded Honorary Doctor of Laws. Author Barry Lopez received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
The UAA class of 2012 totaled 2,172 students. Commencement ceremonies for the University of Alaska Fairbanks will be held Sunday, May 13.