We Are UAA

I had just about the best seat in the Sullivan Arena for my daughter JJ's graduation from the University of Alaska Anchorage on Sunday, and certainly the best I'd had when her three older siblings graduated from Bowdoin, Washington State, and CU Boulder. That's because I was graduating too, and my school (college of arts and sciences) was the first to process in and we master's degree recipients were in the front of the line. I wasn't going to attend my commencement, since I already had the diploma. The low-residency MFA program in creative writing mailed it this winter after my thesis passed muster. JJ had also been finishing her final coursework down here in Haines (we are about 800 miles from Anchorage) and was student teaching in the kindergarten and doubted she would go. I encouraged her to fly up for the ceremony and she said she'd do it if I did. Well, why not? I am so glad now, and a little sorry that only one of my classmates was there-- poet (and Anchorage attorney and UAA journalism prof) John McKay. We watched the Native dancers open the ceremony, sang the national anthem and Alaska flag song with equal authority, and after we received our degrees John shared a celebratory chocolate bar with me and we watched everyone else clutch diplomas and pose for photos for the next two and a half hours. John also managed to take a picture of the back of my head and JJ walking by, with his iPhone. (My husband Chip was up in the stands with my camera, and having a lot of trouble making it work. Maybe I should have sat with him?) The first diploma went to an honors student in a wheel chair, the last to a student who had been hit by an SUV and needed help walking.  Either one could have been me. In between students of every color, size, shape, and age (I was not the only gray-hair in the student section) paraded by.  The diversity of the teachers, students, and the degree programs was even more evident because school officials alternated traditional, technical, and professional schools. Construction management grads in UAA green and gold hard hats walked side by side with sparkly haired theater majors. Someday, they may be in the same community theater production in Fairbanks, Nome, or Homer.  I was so proud when JJ's name was called, along with "magna cum laude", that I hollered her name and waved and she smiled and waved back. Everyone around us was doing that, too. It was a noisy, happy affair. It may have been then, or perhaps earlier that day when JJ and her friends were talking about student teaching in Haines, St. Paul, and Kenai--  when I realized that my life had come full circle. My own other two graduations-- from a private N.Y. prep school and Middlebury College-- were a long time ago, in a very different world. I have been in Alaska now long enough to have raised five Alaskan children, and I have two Alaskan grandchildren (with another due any day). Looking around the Sullivan Arena, from my daughter's shining face-- and her happy soon-to-be Alaskan public school teacher friends-- to the honorary degree recipients whom I actually sort of know -- Gov. Tony Knowles, Tlingit scholar Rosita Worl, and author Barry Lopez--  I realized that the UAA alumni association is only part right--  Yes, JJ and I "are UAA", but we are also Alaskan, and  that may be why we both feel so at home with our new UAA degrees.

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