Friday Focus: Reflecting on a year of resiliency 

May 6, 2021

Tori Tragis

Charlene Stern. Photo by Rachel Saylor, Tanana Chiefs Conference.
Charlene Stern. Photo by Rachel Saylor, Tanana Chiefs Conference.

— by Charlene Stern, interim vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education

As we approach the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on what a year it has been! Participating in the various graduation ceremonies at UAF this past week has made me extremely grateful for each and every faculty, staff and student who contributes to our university community. Enduring through a worldwide pandemic and the many adjustments it required of all of us both professionally and personally was incredibly challenging. I have yet to meet a single person who has been untouched by the experience. What has been equally incredible to witness over this past year, however, has been the determination of our students and employees to persist forward despite the challenges.  

This year was a year of firsts for many reasons. It marked the first ever Trailblazer Award ceremony to celebrate the achievements of first-generation students receiving an occupational endorsement, certificate or associate degree. Trailblazer graduates were provided an orange honor cord to wear during UAF’s commencement ceremony to signify that they were the first in their family to graduate from college. There were a total of 269 Trailblazer graduates who are quite literally, blazing a trail for others in their families and communities to consider following in. What an achievement that is for them and also for us as an institution! 

This year also marked a first for the larger UAF commencement ceremony, which included a drive-in graduation ceremony and car parade. Being a part of that celebration was a memorable event, with many graduates donned in their caps and gowns and participating from their vehicles or the tailbed of pickup trucks. A huge highlight for me was watching as the graduates drove around campus while their families as well as UAF faculty and staff stood along the sidewalks congratulating them with lots of cheering and sign waiving.       

To all of the graduates – congratulations on completing your degree in the midst of one of the most challenging times in recent history. To all of the students who are continuing to work towards their degrees – congratulations on finishing another year towards your educational goals. Lastly, to all of the faculty and staff who work hard everyday in service to our students – your efforts are appreciated and what make UAF a great place!  Go Nanooks!