35 Nome-Beltz High School seniors have officially graduated and received their diplomas. Special accommodations were made for Wednesday night’s graduation ceremony, and for other Class of 2020 graduates across Western Alaska, given the current coronavirus pandemic.

Ava Earthman is the valedictorian for Nome-Beltz this year. While she’s been given commendation from her school, she’s also missed out on some perks of being a senior, like a baccalaureate ceremony and a senior prom.

“And it was definitely difficult to get into the groove of things at first, and it’s been really sad, as a senior, to not be with the rest of my class and even the younger kids at school, just to finish out the year.”

As the coronavirus pandemic set-in in Alaska, schools across the state had to shut down and transition to virtual education for the final nine weeks or so of the spring semester. That forced sports seasons to abruptly end, school buildings to close their doors, and students to become essentially home-schooled for a semester. (Click here to view the final Nome-Beltz sports awards for the 2019-2020 school year.)

Still, communities and school teachers are trying to recognize high school seniors’ achievements with a somewhat normal tradition. According to Dr. Bobby Bolen, the Superintendent for the Bering Strait School District, BSSD distributed their annual student certificates.

“We handed out or prepared Native diplomas, which is a certificate diploma, which is what we do every year. And that was presented at the actual graduation ceremony. And then after that we mailed individual diplomas out to all the graduates once we confirmed that they had met all the graduation requirements.”

At this point, Bolen says pretty much all 15 BSSD schools have done a community parade and some type of high school graduation ceremony, whether virtually by sharing pre-recorded speeches or through social media and Facebook Live.

While sporting various face masks, 12 Shishmaref seniors were handed their diplomas and celebrated locally for their academic achievements on Monday, May 18.

Communities throughout the school district recognized their local seniors as well, with a bonfire for 11 seniors in Stebbins and their fellow graduates in St. Michael, an outdoor procession of snowmachines and four-wheelers in Savoonga, and local parades for one, three, or however many seniors each school had this year.

All of BSSD’s graduations and parades have been taking place over the last few weeks, while Nome-Beltz’s ceremony is slated to begin around 7:30pm tonight following the conclusion of a local parade around town. Tune into KNOM Radio starting at 6:30pm to hear live coverage and audio from Nome’s parade and NBHS’s entire graduation ceremony.

NBHS seniors will be joined on stage, during the ceremony, by a handful of other Nome seniors who are 2020 Mount Edgecumbe High School and Galena Interior Learning Academy graduates.

Afterwards, these young adults will be planning for and looking ahead to the next stage of their lives. Earthman says her plans for this summer, her last before the first semester of college, have already been disrupted by the coronavirus.

“Originally I was going to go [away] to college in the fall and I had an internship lined up for this summer, but now the internship is cancelled. And for my college, we don’t really know where that is going to go yet… So far what I’m thinking is it’s going to look like another online class or online semester for the fall.”

Full audio and video of Nome-Beltz High School’s 2020 Class Graduation Ceremony can be found on their student activities Facebook page, or through our partner KICY. To hear KNOM’s call-in show program from that evening, click here.

KNOM’s Joe Coleman contributed to this report.

Image at top: Seniors were driven around town during Nome-Beltz High School’s graduation parade on Wednesday, May 20th. Photo from JoJo Phillips, KNOM (2020).