A Bristol Bay principal bet his hair on his seniors’ success. They all graduated.

Junior Torino, Principal Shannon Harvilla, and Nathan Hansen in May 2022. Harvilla had agreed to let Torino shave his head if Torino and the rest of the senior class graduated. (Bristol Bay Borough School District)

Shannon Harvilla is the principal and assistant superintendent of the Bristol Bay Borough School District, which has around 100 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and he wants to help each of those students as much as he can. Last year, his sense of duty was put to the test when he received a surprising request from one of the seniors, Senen Torino, or Junior.

“Junior Torino approached me at the beginning of the school year, semi joking, because I had long hair, [asking] if he could shave it,” Harvilla said.

Harvilla agreed under one condition.

“I let him know that if the entire senior class graduated this year that he could have the honor of shaving my head,” he said.

Torino said he had had a rough start to the school year.

“I was pretty short on credits, and so I didn’t  think I was gonna graduate,” he said. “But midway through the year, I started cranking out some more classes that I needed.”

Torino said his bet with Principal Harvilla motivated him to persevere through some tough parts of the 12th grade.

“Oh yeah, it pushed me a little bit more,” he said. “I really wanted to see him bald. It was really stressful. I had some doubts, but I didn’t let that stop me from anything. I knew that he would stick to his word. I didn’t expect a lot of the kids to come down and watch. But it was fun. I’m glad I got to do it in front of everybody and everyone got a chance to see.”

Torino graduated last spring along with 10 of his classmates. The students celebrated with the rest of the community; Harvilla said it was the first real in-person event the school hosted since the start of the pandemic two years earlier. Torino spoke at graduation. He said he was nervous.

“I was one of the class speakers, so I had to talk about my whole class in front of everybody at graduation, so I was kind of nervous. But once I got up there it was fun,” he said. “There’s definitely been some good times with them. And it’s going to be different, but everyone’s going to go their separate ways, and maybe we’ll stay connected somehow.”

Afterward, he made one last trip to school to shave Harvilla’s head in front of the student body. Harvilla said the haircut was worth it.

“I knew that [Jr. Torino] would have to put in extra work in order to graduate. And I knew that any bit of motivation we could provide as adults would help him get to his goal of graduating,” he said.

Now, Torino is working at the borough dock. The Bristol Bay Borough’s 2022 school year starts this week — no word yet on what Harvilla plans to do if all the seniors graduate this spring.

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

Previous articleUp close with spawning salmon: University of Washington researchers contribute to decades of Bristol Bay data
Next articleAlaska faces unique housing challenges, as feds send millions of dollars to help, top HUD official says