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Nome Beltz High School Graduates Celebrate with Parade and Ceremony

A local resident cheers on students with a tambourine in hand as the parade approached W Fourth Avenue. Ben Townsend photo.

Residents lined the streets of Nome as a cacophony of sirens, honks, and cheers filled the air. The slow procession of nearly 50 vehicles has become an annual tradition in Nome, when COVID-19 forced the city to practice social distancing back in 2020. Nome Beltz graduates rode in elaborately decorated cars and sat in chairs thrown in the back of pickup trucks. Graduates tossed candy to residents as they passed by and reveled in their accomplishments

“Let’s go class of 2024!” Richard Cross exclaimed from the back of a pickup truck, accompanied by Son Erikson. 

Following a parade that snaked through downtown Nome the procession made its way up through the Icy View neighborhood then over to Nome Beltz High School. Shortly after 7:00 p.m. the ceremony began with a live piano rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance”. Stepping out in pairs, the graduates performed a quick move for the crowd then split up to walk down each side of the gym floor. 

After taking their seats Nome Public Schools Superintendent Jamie Burgess delivered a speech followed by remarks from Nome Beltz Principal Teriscovkya Smith.

Graduates join performers from the Nome-St. Lawrence Island Dance Group. Ben Townsend photo.

The Nome-Saint Lawrence Island Dance Group performed two traditional drum dances, first accompanied by young children then by members of the graduating class. The students finished with a move that resembled a basketball shot, an apparent nod to the school’s 2024 state basketball championship. 

Salutatorian Irina Kadatska opened the student speeches, noting how her graduating class’s experience was unique due to COVID. 

“We all had a different life journey, but all of them led us to be sitting here today. One thing we all have in common is we all had a very weird first year of high school,” Kadatska said. “From wearing masks all day every day to not being able to travel for sports because we got COVID, we all made it through and are here today.”

Kadatska concluded with words of encouragement for her fellow graduates. 

“Whatever the path you choose, I hope you go about it with full perseverance and never, ever give up on doing something that you love,” Kadatska said.

A floral graduation cap worn by a student. Ben Townsend photo.

Valedictorian Kaitlyn Johnson delivered a speech shortly after. 

“At any given moment we have two options, to step forward into growth or step back into safety,” Johnson said. “Having grown up with the class in front of me, I’m confident in saying we are a generation that is capable of making change.”

After the speech Principal Smith informed the crowd she needed to settle a long-running debt owed to Johnson of one penny. Tongue-in-cheek, the Principal explained that after numerous requests she probably owed Johnson 5,000 pennies. Principal Smith then handed over a bag full of loose and rolled pennies weighing over 30 pounds, drawing applause and laughter from the audience. 

Soon afterwards the gym’s lights were shuttered and a slideshow with senior photoshoots and baby pictures were displayed. On the slides were notes of what the students planned on doing post graduation. As names flickered onto the screen the crowd burst into deafening applause against the backdrop of “Where’d All the Time Go?” by Dr. Dog and “Good Old Days” by Macklemore and Kesha. 

Nearly an hour after the ceremony began the moment the students were waiting for finally arrived. The graduates queued up to the left side of a stage topped with a blue “24” balloon. Their names were announced one by one as they made their way across the stage, shaking hands and finally receiving their diplomas. They posed for photos and received decorative leis filled with cash and candy from family members and friends. 

After taking their seats a mesh net containing blue and white balloons was released from the ceiling, although the balloons didn’t release as planned. Nearby members of the audience quickly jumped from their seats, drawing pocket knives out to help slash open the netting. The graduates tossed their caps in the air as they scooped up balloons and exchanged hugs and smiles. 

As the ceremony drew to a close, children in attendance eagerly stomped on and popped balloons, adding to the energy of the room. The graduates, now alumni, embraced their friends and families. The sense of community was palpable, with everyone celebrating not just the academic achievements of the students but also their resilience and determination through challenging times. 

Graduates of Nome Beltz High School were greeted with the smell of fresh rain as they exited the building, carrying with them the memories of a unique and unforgettable graduation day.

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