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With love, to Shungnak

Jen Cerovski
Alaska Dispatch illustration

Editor's note: The following commentary was written as part of a commencement speech delivered this spring in the village of Shungnak, located in Northwest Alaska on the Kobuk River about 150 miles east of Kotzebue. It is dedicated to the two graduating members of Shungnak School's Class of 2012.

I love Shungnak.

I love "Gooooood Evening" on the VHF.

I love fall time, picking berries on the wide-open tundra.

I love boat rides to pick masru.

I love trying to speak Iñupiaq and never getting it right.

I love the sky -- so huge it could swallow you whole.

I love the alpenglow.

I love fish racks heavy with salmon.

I love running past the graveyard and into the hollow with the blueberry bushes pulsating red. 

I love eating caribou soup and panuktuk.

I love watching Ruth make birch bark baskets.  I know she is here with us tonight in spirit.

I love listening to kids hollering at the northern lights.

I love learning to make mukluks.

I love hearing Josephine telling Pete "Mens can't come" to Sewing Night.

I love drinking tea and sewing late into the night at Mildred's.

I love hanging out on the beach and listening to elders tell stories about growing up.

I love learning how to cut fish EVERY fall.

I love saying the pledge of allegiance in Iñupiaq.

I love listening to the cranes circle overhead.

I love George's pizza.

I love staying up all night watching the Kobuk 440.

I love amaqing my daughter.

I love being told I'll never have a husband because I make too much noise with my sewing needle.

I love running through the village in the early morning when everyone is sleeping or just going to sleep.

I love wearing atiqluks.

I love visiting with people on the beach.

I love listening to Emma give Pete a hard time.

I love hearing people walk in the door in the middle of winter saying, "Alapaa."

I love listening to the clicking sounds as a herd of caribou passes by.

I love running from the school with the staff and students to watch the ice go.

I love hearing Caroline singing as she cooks.

I love watching elders walk down the snow-covered street in their colorful parkas.

I love catching sheefish.

I love hearing birthday wishes on VHF and "be bossy."

I love nine-foot snowdrifts.

I love Bella's donuts.

I love learning from all the ladies at Sewing Night.

I love eating sourdough pancakes on Sunday with Mildred.

I love hearing folks shooting at the ice during break-up.

I love the ptarmigan exploding out of the snow and scaring me half to death.

I love the Halloween parade and talent show.

I love how the shyest person can put on a costume and become outrageous.

I love that I go home with a bellyache from laughing so hard.

I love being bothered about not having any kids of my own (You can't do that anymore).

I love visiting with Genevieve or Linda at the post office.

I love the moon coming up over the river, swollen and beautiful.

I love Iñupiaq fashion shows.

I love going to the coffeehouse with my first ever batch of homemade donuts.

I love watching the kids float around on their Styrofoam boats in the springtime.

I love skiing out to the bluffs with a pack of kids.

I love hearing the musical sounds of village English: He never, I always.

I love saying "Adii" (and so I still do)  "Adii, writing this graduation speech was really hard!"

I love "I jokes" and Iñupiat laughter that goes on forever.

 

But most of all I love ... my students.

 

Jen Cerovski is a former middle school teacher at Shungnak School.

The preceeding commentary was first published by The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.