After a remarkable send off for graduates, Dillingham school starts work on plans for the fall

Jun 25, 2020

The fishing season -- and summer vacation -- are underway. The school year was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the Dillingham school district is working to determine what the fall will look like for students and staff.

The class of 2020 celebrating in front of the Dillingham middle/high school entrance. May 22, 2020.
Credit Abbey Whitcomb

Dillingham’s graduation looked -- and sounded -- a little different this year with schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The ceremony was recorded and played over the radio. It was followed by a parade celebrating the graduates. Senior Clara Chapman opened the ceremony, as families lined up along Kanakanak Road, waiting to take pictures outside their cars.

The commencement speech was given by Susan Thames, a former teacher who taught the class of 2020 in middle school. Thames wasn’t able to be in Dillingham for the ceremony, but in her speech, she reflected on the times that she was with her students. 

"Most importantly I learned that each and every moment we spent together, is a treasure that I get to keep forever, and from the bottom of my heart I thank you for that," said Thames. 

Valedictorian Abbey Whitcomb celebrated with her mother, sister, and fellow graduates. In her speech, Whitcomb described the connections they shared as a class.

"We were unaware of the hours of math problems, chemistry packets, many essays, and the stress that awaited us in high school," Whitcomb said. "We both lost and gained classmates along the way, but one thing is for sure, and it is cheesy, but we are family."

Whitcomb is working as a greenhorn this fishing season before heading to Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO, this fall to study general education.

The unusual spring required a lot from students, and from staff. This was Principal Vincent Kane's first year working for the Dillingham City School District, though it wasn’t his first in Alaska. Kane says he was thrilled getting to know the class of 2020, and especially the community. 

“You know, I found everyone here to be really kind, extremely supportive of the school and what we’re trying to do in support of kids. I think that's really been the highlight for me, how incredible the community is,” Kane said.

Superintendent Jason Johnson just finished his second year with the district. The state closed schools this spring as part of its strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska, but Johnson said that won’t be the case this fall.

“The state’s not going to take the same approach as they did this year, where they closed districts throughout the whole state. It’s going to be up to each individual site, will make decisions for what they believe is best for their kids. So if you can pick a district with multiple schools, some schools might be closed while other schools in the district might be open," he said.

Johnson said the Dillingham school district has yet to determine what school will look like for students this year.

The school board met on the 22 to discuss the school’s COVID-19 preparations, and Johnson plans to have additional meetings ahead of the academic year. He expects school to start on time.

Congratulations to Dillingham’s class of 2020!

Contact the author at kendra@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.