Friends, families, students, Marshallese traditional leaders and members of the local and national governments of the Republic of the Marshall Islands gathered at the Kwajalein High School Davye Davis Multi-Purpose Room for the graduation of the Class of 2022 May 20, 2022.
The class of 24 graduates included six Marshallese Ri-Katak students and many students who have lived Kwajalein for more than a decade. Several graduates plan to pursue higher education and careers in medicine, writing, industrial arts and engineering fields. In the fall, some classmates will attend Brown University, Naval Station Great Lakes, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy.
During the ceremony, two students with the highest grade-point averages were honored. Additionally, three students completed the highest number of Advanced Placement courses, received the highest grades possible in every class, and have been named co-valedictorians: Jenna Gray, Eden Pope and Maddy Nienow.
In her address to the class, Gray exhorted her classmates to cherish their memories of Kwajalein and to value their friendships and relationships in the community as they prepared to face the challenges ahead.
“How we deal with these challenges is what’s most important,” Gray said. “When encountering obstacles, I encourage each of you to never give up. Instead, stay confident in yourselves, persevere through hardships one step at a time and ask for help when needed. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.’”
USAG-KA Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega and Lt. Col. David Taylor, range director, Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, took the stage to present each graduate their diploma. In return, the students gave each service member a flower lei.
The ceremony included many lighthearted moments, including a class hula performance, a slideshow of student photos and the reading and reenactment of the class history. It began with a funny story featuring a classmate.
“Kindergarten was a year of learning and exploration,” said graduate Lima Lelet. “We learned the consequences of forgetting about Sean [Hepler] during a fire drill. We found him asleep under a table.”
The students specially thanked their class mentors, as well as parents and faculty members who have supported and encouraged them over the years, leaving the stage to give them hugs and purple orchid leis.
KHS Principal Matthew Gerber said he had complete confidence in the class because the island’s families had so invested in their success. He stressed that graduation was the beginning of a new journey—one in which the families and community on Kwajalein who had helped raise the students would continue to play an important role.
“Thank you so much, for what you all do to raise the kids,” Gerber said. “It really takes an island. It takes great families. I am so grateful for each one of you and what you’ve done for these kids. They will still need your support in every way when they go from here. It will be different [now]—they will need encouragement, instead of an alarm clock, in some cases, but you’ll be there for them.”
After the graduates turned tassels, they left the MP Room as they had entered it on the first day of their senior year: dancing. They ventured into the school’s courtyard to meet with loved ones and friends in attendance who will help them take their next big steps into the future.