Nelson Island School is the only school in Toksook Bay, a Yup’ik village of roughly 650 people, about 115 miles northwest of Bethel.
About 170 students attend the school. Kindergarteners walk the halls alongside 12th graders.
But on Friday, May 12, all the attention was on the 11 graduating seniors. In some ways, the event felt like a typical American high school graduation with caps, gowns and confetti. But it also included Yup’ik customs like akutaq, mukluks, throw parties and blessings from elders. The event was a powerful moment of joy after the village grieved a string of deaths from cancer, suicide and COVID-19.
Here are some of our favorite photos from the day:
Originally from the Central Coast of California, Valerie joined Alaska Public Media in July 2017. She creates original video content for the station's TV and digital platforms while also overseeing the Production Department. Before moving to Alaska, Valerie worked as an ENG Editor at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina. She also served in the U.S. Air Force as a TV and Radio Broadcast Journalist where she traveled around Europe, Africa, The Baltics, Australia, and the Southern United States reporting on military events, exercises, and missions. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, backcountry skiing, backpacking, yoga, and traveling.