A look back at past commencement speakers

It’s the end of the semester and soon-to-be graduates are nearing the end of their journey. While each student will walk their own path beyond graduation, The Northern Light looked back to find out what several of UAA’s past commencement speakers are doing after their own graduations.

Ruddy Abam

Ruddy Abam graduated in the fall of 2015 with a degree in criminal justice and minors in political science and psychology. The first place she went was back home to Cameroon and spent several months there before returning to Alaska.

Ruddy Abam spoke a the fall 2015 graduation a the Alaska Airlines Center. Abam is currently finishing her first semester at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Ruddy Abam spoke a the fall 2015 graduation a the Alaska Airlines Center. Abam is currently finishing her first semester at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Photo credit: Kathryn Casello

She began working for former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, whom she had interned for during his 2014 re-election campaign, and focused on a range of projects.

“I was just doing research analysis and working for clients,” Abam said. “We did some Municipality [of Anchorage] work and proofreading of legislation.”

Abam also joined the Global Shaper Alaska Hub of the World Economic Forum. She traveled to Switzerland in September to meet other “shapers” from around the world to discuss projects to improve their community.

Doing this work inspired Abam and allowed her to talk about Alaska, something that she has been gearing towards in a career.

- Advertisement -

“I cannot explain how amazing it was to be in a room with 350 people from all over the world, having various opinions about various projects,” Abam said. “I had a voice in that.”

Currently, Abam is finishing her first semester at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she hopes to graduate by 2020.

Her focus has been set on legislative work and public service, helping others who she sees as similar to herself, an average person. This also includes minority groups, such as women and African Americans.

Though she is attending school out of state, Abam still plans on returning home later down the road. It’s because she grew up in Alaska that she came across great opportunities, she says.

“It’s where I got my start with literally everything,” Abam said.

While she plans on finding work in Alaska as well, Abam also hopes to eventually head to Washington, D.C. for more experience.

Jonathon Taylor

In May of 2016, Jonathon Taylor said goodbye to his eventful years at UAA. As former USUAA president and member of the Seawolf Debate team, Taylor graduated with a degree in political science and minors in journalism, communications and economics.

Johnathon Taylor spoke at the spring 2016 graduation ceremony. Taylor is currently working as the deputy press secretary for Gov. Bill Walker in Juneau.
Johnathon Taylor spoke at the spring 2016 graduation ceremony. Taylor is currently working as the deputy press secretary for Gov. Bill Walker in Juneau. Photo credit: Young Kim

Now, he’s living in Juneau and working as deputy press secretary for Gov. Bill Walker.

Despite being very busy while at UAA, Taylor says that he made sure to find leisure time after finishing his last semester. During his last year, he was working full-time at Holland America Princess Alaska and the tourism season was picking up, but Taylor still made an effort to give himself a break.

“One of the things I know that I definitely missed out on just because I was so busy while I was in college — I didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked to spend time with friends and do a lot of social things,” Taylor said. “I definitely made it more of a priority.”

Having worked in the governor’s office since August of last year, Taylor has his sight set on being in communications and public relations. For the time being, he is supporting Governor Walker during his term in office and enjoying the work he does.

“At some point, I will reassess and see what’s next,” Taylor said.

The future beyond his current position is uncertain, but Taylor recognizes opportunities both in and outside of the state of Alaska. Though it is home, he’s willing to consider any prospects that may be worth pursuing.

“You know, they say that there are two degrees of separation here between you and everyone else, and I think that is really true,” Taylor said. “That means there is a lot of opportunity to make some really unique and fascinating connections… I like living here, but I’m very open to opportunities and other things that might come my way.”

Sophie Leshan

Though she has only been graduated for a year, Sophie Leshan has managed to stay busy working with children in the Anchorage School District and at the Anchorage Museum. With a degree in early childhood education, Leshan spent the spring of 2017 as a substitute teacher.

Sophie Leshan spoke at the fall 2016 commencement ceremony. She is currently a kindergarten teacher at Williwaw Elementary.
Sophie Leshan spoke at the fall 2016 commencement ceremony. She is currently a kindergarten teacher at Williwaw Elementary. Photo credit: Young Kim.

“That was a lot of fun, having my degree and being able to sub long-term in classrooms,” Leshan said.

During the summer, Leshan spent her time at a day camp called Camp Si-La-Meo of Camp Fire Alaska. She worked seven days a week on the campus grounds of Alaska Pacific University, teaching kids as young as 5 years old about nature and other outdoor activities. She also taught at the Anchorage Museum.

As a nature and outdoor living skills specialist, she says that she got to spend the entire day with them.

“[It was] super fun being outside all day with kids and teaching them about flora and fauna in our beautiful state,” Leshan said.

Leshan is now a kindergarten teacher at Williwaw Elementary. Eventually, she wants to continue her education, especially since UAA has an established relationship with the Anchorage School District. She says that it would be “a really natural transition.” Later down the road, Leshan also hopes to host a student teacher from UAA.

“I’m still a first-year teacher so I still have a lot to learn, but when I have a few more years and experience under my belt, that would be really fulfilling to me,” Leshan said.

Although she was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Leshan fell in love with Alaska’s scenery and people and is here to stay. The diversity in the kids that she has worked with makes what she does much more fun.

Williwaw Elementary is one of the most diverse schools in the country, and Leshan appreciates the kids’ cultural differences.

“My students are so diverse and it’s amazing to have all these experiences within the Anchorage community,” Leshan said.

Advice from graduates to future graduates

Abam believes that “resilience is timeless.” She advises graduates to stick to their paths, find what they are passionate about and find a way to be of service to others.

“I think that it’s just so fundamental to be that person who helps another person in their life,” Abam said.

For Taylor, there are three things to do upon graduating.

“The first is: enjoy it. Congratulations, you did it,” Taylor said. “The second thing is to rest. I know after I graduated, I was just exhausted.”

“Be open to those new opportunities,” Taylor added. “You never know what exciting adventures or opportunities might come your way.”

Leshan also urges that graduates keep their options open while keeping in touch with others.

“I think that is so valuable in the university experience. It can really propel you to what your goals are,” Leshan said.