This Fourth of July, Ace Edwards' evening won't just be for barbecues and fireworks. It'll hopefully include a birthday cake with the number 18 on it as well.
Edwards is a senior at Barrow high school, but he's got more than graduating high school on his plate this year.
Most recently Edwards took part in the Barrow Elders and Youth Conference, held in late November. Attending the conferences has become a meaningful part of his year, a tradition he started during his sophomore year when he and his family still lived on the Kenai Peninsula.
Through the varied gatherings he's attended over the years — from Fairbanks to Barrow and Point Hope — Edwards said he's learned precious things about both the past and what he wants for his future. In 2011 he went to the Point Hope elders and youth conference with the borough's Mayor's Arctic Youth Advisory Council (MAYAC).
"That was one of the best experiences I've ever had," Edwards said. "It's a great thing, it shows Alaska teens what elders had to do to survive and theirs elders before them. It keeps alive traditions and alerts kids (to) dangers."
The busy teenager is the president of the student council as well as the president of North Slope Borough MAYAC.
"That will always keep me busy," Edwards said. "It's way of extending the voice of students to the school board. (It) helps keep everybody informed of what is happening." It's also good experience for a future in leadership or management, he said.
One of the biggest issues for young people in Barrow right now is school attendance, Edwards said, though it is beginning to improve. That, combined with the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on a young person's future, are some of the problems among his peers that concern him the most about the future.
"Whether it's high school, or alternative school," Edwards said, "you at least need a high school or equivalent education to get anywhere. Once I see kids take a stand against it, then I'll be sure to know that future generations will be able to succeed."
It's the people around him that inspire Edwards to work hard for his future. There is always the option to turn toward unhealthy or negative pursuits, he said. Regardless of the struggles and hardships all around, he believes in the strength of his people and the bright future ahead of them.
"I want to rise above that and show what we can do," he said.
It's not all work and no play, though, Edwards said.
"I'm just (an) average North Slope teenager," he said. "I love to go out hunting or target practicing. Riding my snowmachine around during winter months, (hopping) on the four-wheeler during summer. But my favorite from all, is this Jeep I drive around. (I've) always been adding and working on that thing since the day I bought it."
As he masters the skills that his Arctic home has given him, Edwards is trying to decide what his future will hold.
"Once I'm done with high school, I see myself perhaps in the Air Force," he said. "Then college I believe. But who knows yet." Regardless, Edwards said, his future absolutely includes a return to his home in the north.
"That I know will surely happen," he said. "It's a great place to raise children, safe and everybody knows everybody."
This article is part of a series by The Arctic Sounder featuring the youth of Alaska's Arctic communities. It is republished here with permission. If you know a young person whose accomplishments and insights you would like to see featured, please contact Hannah Heimbuch at hheimbuch(at)reportalaska.com.