More than 500 University of Alaska Anchorage students celebrated their graduation Sunday in commencement ceremonies at the Alaska Airlines Center.
UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell said this class has shown their ability to adapt during the pandemic.
“They didn’t just come through one year of this, they came through two academic years of it,” he said. “They’ve proven their remarkable resolve to finish and then to start anew as they leave this commencement ceremony today.”
Student commencement speaker Teresa Novakovich graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She began her undergraduate education at UAA 35 years ago but dropped out to start a family. She started working in health education and found that her career opportunities were limited without a degree.
“At the age of 54, full of fear and uncertainty, I re-enrolled at UAA,” she said in her address. “I am not a normal college graduate, but what I have learned is that there’s no such thing as normal. There’s just us: the grandmother, the immigrant, the athlete, the single parent, the artist, the young adult.”
She says she’s especially thankful for the UAA staff who made her feel welcome.
“One of the things I was really afraid of was going back to a math or science class, when I hadn’t done math in 30 years,” she said in an interview. “I found that it was ok. We have a very culturally diverse student body at UAA, and it’s very welcoming because of that.”
The graduate student speaker was Tia Hale. She worked in the labor and delivery wing of the Alaska Native Medical Center as she pursued a master’s degree in nursing science. Masks were optional at Sunday’s ceremony, and in her address, Hale said she was happy to see many of her classmates’ smiling faces.
“These last few years have been incredibly trying, as we’ve all been faced with challenges we didn’t consider possible,” she said. “I will be telling stories of life behind the mask through the eyes of a nurse for years to come.”
Sunday’s ceremonies were the second held in person since the pandemic began. The university held commencement ceremonies for the fall 2021 class in December. On Saturday, UAA also held a reunion commencement for its spring 2021 graduates, who had virtual ceremonies last year.
More than 1,000 students are graduating from the Anchorage campus with certificate, undergraduate and graduate degrees this year.