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  • An iconic West Anchorage High School graduate, Class of 2010.

    I attended the school, graduating in 2005, and have since returned working on a non-contract basis as a substitute teacher, coach, and student teacher over the past three years. I have come into contact with well over half of the 1,800 students, and many students know me by name.

    There is no "average" student at West. While we have the most National Merit Scholars of any school in the state and exceptional drama and music programs, we also serve some of the most transient and at-risk teens in the city, and possess one of the highest drop-out rates. Students are heavily "tracked" into programs to fit their individual needs. There is not a lot of mixing across tracks; my ski team go-getters don't mix much at all with my English 10 class.

    West is also profoundly multicultural. In my "English 10" class last year, more than half the students didn't speak English at home; between them they spoke 9 languages, 2 of which were new to me. Some students were new to town, and others had switched in from other "tracks"; some read at a 5th grade level, others read at a college level.

    Graduation thus means very different things to different students, depending on their backgrounds. Some students are the first in their family to graduate high school and have a large extended family cheering from the stands; others are headed to Harvard, and have just two calm parents in attendance. Still others move on to the military, jobs in their family business, or a bit of drifting.

    However, there is a tradition that transcends culture at West graduation.

    At West, 12% of the students are Samoan/Pacific Islander, and the island culture permeates the school. No one would think to tease a star football player for wearing a sarong to school. Ukuleles were rampant, even before their recent rise to trendiness. And at graduation, parents of all cultures shower their children with leis; flower leis, candy leis, leis made of money. After you walk across the stage, shake the appropriate hands, and receive your degree, you walk to the stands, where various family members adorn you with leis.

    When I graduated, I got a purple flower lei my mom purchased at the grocery store, and a candy lei my sister purchased from a Samoan family selling them outside of the stadium. My Dad's mom, Grandma Joy, and my aunt and uncle had flown in from Seattle, and so this tradition - which they found highly colorful and entertaining - had caught them by surprise.

    However, some students with more Alaskan extended family were much more weighed down, as each cousin, sister, brother, aunt, great-aunt, etc., adorned them with leis.

    This 2010 graduate represents the iconic West graduate in my mind.

    I don't know where she is now, but I am sure she is loved, and I hope she cherishes fond memories of West High.
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