UAA graduation is extra sweet for students who missed high school ceremonies 4 years ago

A woman in a black graduation gown walks up to a podium.
Student commencement speaker Katie Scoggin walks up to the podium for her graduation speech at the Alaska Airlines Center on Sunday, May 5, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Just before receiving her diploma as a University of Alaska Anchorage graduate on Sunday, Katie Scoggin spoke to her classmates about the importance of being part of a community.

“There is strength not only in numbers, but especially in dedicating yourself to serving others and giving back to the communities that raised you,” Scoggin said during her commencement speech.

Then, Scoggin walked across the stage to accept her diploma and the assembled crowd of her classmates went wild.

people hold cardboard cutouts of a person's head in the air at a graduation, while cheering
The crowd cheers at University of Alaska Anchorage’s graduation. (Matt Faubion / Alaska Public Media)

Sunday’s ceremony stands in stark contrast to the first time Scoggin earned a diploma. Four years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic brought in-person gatherings to a halt across the globe. Like high school seniors nationwide, the graduation ceremony Scoggin dreamed of was reduced to a car parade and a zoom call. Greeted by her masked teachers outside the entryway to Steller Secondary School in Anchorage, Scoggin shared her thoughts with classmates in front of a laptop and drove away.

Katie Scoggin delivers a commencement speech to a laptop in 2020.
Katie Scoggin delivered her high school graduation speech to a laptop amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. (Photo courtesy Katie Scoggin)

“I feel like I really missed out and all of the other class of 2020 high school graduates missed out,” Scoggin said. “It’s our chance at redemption. It’s our time to shine, and be surrounded by the people we love.”

The pandemic also derailed Scoggin’s plans to attend college out of state. She had toured colleges in California and planned to visit more during spring break of 2020. Scoggin’s travel plans were canceled, and she opted to stay at home for school and attend UAA.

“I was sad at first because I was like, I can’t apply to these schools if I haven’t been on their campus and I don’t know what the environment is like,” Scoggin said. “At that point, I was just kind of like, okay, well, Plan B, actually, it was probably more like plan D, E to go to the University of Alaska Anchorage.”

Once she got to campus, Scoggin was busy. Her college extracurriculars involved a term as the student body president, she served on UAA’s Panhellenic council, as a peer health educator, a model United Nations delegate and she volunteered with the Alaska Innocence Project. She graduated with a degree in political science with minors in legal studies and Spanish.

Scoggin adapted to the new normal of the pandemic and found success at UAA, but there were challenges. Scoggin’s first semester of college started with online classes.

“There were just so many unknowns, uncertainties about this time period,” Scoggin said. “I knew that I wanted to be close to my family, because none of us knew what was ahead. So I decided to stay with my family, and I’m really glad that I did.”

University of Alaska Anchorage graduation caps
University of Alaska Anchorage graduates sitting in the crowd at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Matt Faubion / Alaska Public Media)

Katie is the youngest of Bob and Ginger Scoggin’s five daughters. Bob said that out of all five, Katie takes after her mother the most. During Katie’s graduation speech, she spoke about the importance of giving back to the community — a value she said she learned from her mother. Ginger Scoggin emphasized the disruption caused to Katie and her classmates by the COVID-19 pandemic that changed so much about the way students attended class.

“The disconnect was so much bigger than just not graduating, you know, or doing a prom by zoom,” she said. “It was an emotional and physical disconnect that became, I guess, normal for them. But at our age looking, you know, down, it was not normal at all. It was tragic and sad.”

Willow Kristeller is Scoggin’s neighbor, and a fellow 2024 UAA graduate. Kristeller was sitting on the couch in her living room when she graduated from West Valley High School in Fairbanks in 2020. Kristeller said she’s always loved going to school, but attending online classes during a global pandemic tested that love.

Willow Kristeller's high school graduation slideshow.
2024 UAA graduate Willow Kristeller watched her high school graduation from her couch amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. (Photo courtesy Willow Kristeller)

“I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy,” Kristeller said. “I took five to six classes every semester for four years straight, and I’ve worked at least two right now three jobs while I’ve been in school.”

Kristeller was most disappointed when her senior softball season was canceled in 2020, along with the rest of the senior year traditions.

“We didn’t get our senior skip day, we didn’t get graduation, we didn’t get any of the precursor things that you do with your class,” Kristeller said. “It didn’t really hit how much I would want that stuff, and you don’t think about it until you don’t get it.”

On Sunday, she earned a degree in journalism and public communications, but said she wants to go back to school to become a teacher eventually. For now, Kristeller said, she’s ready for a break. During an interview before her graduation ceremony, Kristeller said she wanted to make sure to stop and enjoy the moment.

“We’re not only getting a graduation, but we’re finishing college,” Kristeller said. “That’s a pretty big achievement, and I think that’s what I’m trying to do is just take a second to be like, I did this, and I worked hard and I finished it.”

Scoggin summed up her feelings after graduating with nearly 950 of her classmates.

“Kind of speechless,” Scoggin said. “But mostly excited and really really happy to be surrounded by everyone I love, and everyone who loves me.”

two women in graduation gowns twist their tassels to the left side.
Katherine Sakeagak (left) and Hope Wells (right) turn their tassels to the left at UAA’s 2024 graduation at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at or 907-550-8487. Read more about Tim here

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