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Rural Alaska

North Slope graduates all receive iPads, $500, drawing mixed response from some community members

  • Author: Shady Grove Oliver, The Arctic Sounder
  • Updated: May 13
  • Published May 13

The North Slope Borough graduating class of 2018 entered the world after high school with a cash windfall and some new tech.

In a move that's been praised, questioned and criticized by various members of the community, in turn, the borough gave each graduate $500 and a brand new iPad.

Facebook, which often serves as a cross-community discussion board for the Slope, was host to a number of chats about this particular topic since graduation happened in each community over the last couple of weeks.

When contacted by the Sounder, many of the commentators said they preferred to remain anonymous, but gave permission for their comments to be summarized.

More than one former student — who graduated before this year and were not beneficiaries of the gifts — said they thought it was a great idea and would provide outgoing seniors with the tools they would need to succeed in college, which is often expensive and can be nearly impossible to do without some kind of personal technology, like a laptop or an iPad.

However, a number of residents said they were concerned about the "handout" quality of the gifts — some described them as "door prizes" for graduates — saying they felt there should have been additional requirements to earn them.

Borough spokesperson D.J. Fauske confirmed that every graduate from Utqiaġvik and the villages received the same gift. He said they were meant to be a reward for 12 years of hard work in school.

"The mayor wanted every graduating senior to receive it," he said in an email.
Mayor Harry Brower Jr. has not made any statements about the gifts, save what he said during a graduation speech in Utqiaġvik.

The borough's chief administrative officer, Forrest "Deano" Olemaun, gave permission via the borough spokesperson for his Facebook comment on one particular post to be used as his comment for this story.

"The mayor also felt that only the top performers in the class should not be the only ones to prosper, but to enhance the opportunity to all so that they too can succeed," Olemaun wrote.

He also noted the mayor's idea was to "improve the motivation to get the young people more into education."

When asked if there were eligibility requirements to receive the cash, or whether it was paid to the student or to a college into which they were accepted, Fauske wrote that students "had to graduate."

However, on Facebook, Olemaun said the money would be paid directly "to the institution, whether it be for a degree, certificate or trade."

Many community members who spoke out said they understood the motivation behind the gifts. After all, previous mayors and assemblies have both approved and given gifts to graduates in the past.

However, some said they were a bit confused by the fact that funding would be going to individuals while the school district itself is facing potential cuts.

The borough directed the Sounder to the school district for further questions about the gifts. When contacted on Monday, Superintendent Stewart McDonald agreed to an interview on Tuesday. However, he then did not reply to follow-ups and did not grant an interview by deadline.

A borough spokesperson noted that the money came out of "the school district's budget via a transfer from the mayor's office and was discussed at the March assembly meetings and budget hearings." The Sounder could not confirm those discussions with audio from the meetings by deadline.

As for the iPads, they garnered much the same response as the $500. Some former students said they thought it would be a useful tool. A handful of parents said their kids were already using them at home.

However, as of early this week, at least one of the brand new iPads was already up for bids on a local social media buy, sell, trade page.

This story originally appeared in the Arctic Sounder. It is republished here with permission. 

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