Shelby Surdyk and Erica Harris react after winning the top award in the state for duo presentation of literature for their performance of “Jo Ba Kake”, based on a Marshallese fable. Dimitra Lavrakas

First Anchorage, then on to Vegas
Skagway DDFers spread wings and win

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS

ANCHORAGE – It wasn’t hard to find the Skagway kids in the semi-darkness of the Wilda Marston Theater at the Loussac Library on March 1. Tyler Forester’s red hair was a dead giveaway to their location. There they all were – Forrester, Cody Burnham, Sierra Moran, Brandy Mayo, Shelby Surdyk and Erica Harris – leaning forward intently at the Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank State High School Drama- Debate-Forensics Championships awards presentation.
Dressed up and looking like the adults they are on the brink of becoming, you would have been proud of them if you had been there. Whether rising and clapping with gusto for every award winner or waiting nervously on stage for a decision, they were a bundle of energy, exuberance and graciousness.
Early on, when Surdyk and Harris were awarded first place for their piece on U.S. Cold War testing in the Marshall Islands, the two leapt in to the air and hugged each other.
“It was a piece for DDF that inspired Students Educating for Nuclear Awareness, Erica’s and my trip to the Marshall Islands, the upcoming World Nuclear Awareness Conference (in Juneau in April), and is now allowing Erica and I to now go down to Vegas for Nationals,” said Surdyk.
They were the only 2A school in the state championships and also the smallest team with only six students, but Surdyk said she thought that the bigger schools now respected Skagway.
Both students wrote recently via e-mail that their three-year experience in DDF has greatly influenced their lives.
“I’m grateful the program has come to Skagway,” wrote Surdyk, a junior at Skagway School. “My focus in DDF may have prevented me from exploring or trying out other activities, but I wouldn’t trade my experience in the program for the world.”
“Drama and Forensics has been huge for me, and has ultimately shaped the rest of my life, or at least a large part of it.”
Harris, a senior, wrote that she is very glad she decided to become a DDFer.
“I think that DDF has had a very positive effect on me,” Harris said. “After joining the program, I have learned so many skills in writing, acting and analyzing that will help me later on in life.
“I have come away with so many skills, that if I had not joined I would probably be an entirely different person.”
Their piece, a dramatization of a Marshall Island legend, came from their trip to the islands last fall. The visit affected them deeply.
“My life is forever intertwined now with the Marshall Islands, which I have a deep interest and love for, and the skills I have acquired in DDF will help me ‘give back’ to the people of the RMI, or put me in a position to help right the wrongs of the past,” Surdyk wrote.
The different perspectives used in DDF are what makes it possible to have an expansive view of the world, Harris wrote.
“I have learned to really open up and look at different situations and can leave with a better understanding on everything,” she said.
After graduation, Harris and Surdyk said, thanks to DDF, they feel confident they can accomplish just about anything they set out to do.
“The skills people learn and abilities they acquire in public speaking, debate, and performance are probably the most valuable thing they will acquire in their high school career,” wrote Surdyk. “My DDF experience has prepared me for college and future jobs more than any other part of the curriculum.”
Harris agrees.
“All in all, DDF has probably been one of the most beneficial experiences of my life, and I greatly appreciate the time that I had with it,” wrote Harris.
With confidence, intelligence and nimble minds, Skagway’s DDFers head towards the future.
“Anyone could tell you that the DDFers of today will be the leaders of tomorrow,” wrote Surdyk.
The DDF team will be giving a final showcase performance of their regional and state-winning pieces this Saturday night at the Eagles. The event starts at 7 p.m., and a $5 donation is requested to help the girls with their travel to the national competition June 15-20 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

UAS, SHS host Nuclear Awareness Conference
Survivors and activists of the bombing of Hiroshima and the 1950s nuclear testing of the Marshall Islands will speak at the University of Alaska Southeast next month.
In accordance with the Hiroshima Peace Museum, The Marshall Island Government, Veterans for Peace, Alpha Phi Omega (Alpha Zeta Theta Chapter) and UAS Chancellors office, the University of Alaska Southeast will be holding a three day event: The Nuclear Awareness Conference. It is to be held Friday, April 18 (6-10 p.m.), Saturday the 19th (12-5:30 p.m.) and Sunday the 20th (12-7 p.m.).
The conference will include keynote talks by Ms. Shigeko Sasamori, a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima; Mayor James Matayoshi, an activist on behalf of the Marshallese people in the aftermath of the nuclear testing conducted by the U.S.; and Dr. Holly Barker an author and senior advisor to the Marshallese government.
Numerous presentations will be conducted by Andrew Himes, founder of Voices in Wartime; the Juneau Veterans for Peace; as well as performances by Skagway and Haines high school drama and debate teams. Other activities include an open poetry and prose reading, a documentary film series, and an educational workshop for teachers directed by Andy Himes.
According to a UAS press release, the Nuclear Awareness Conference itself stems from a project based educational venture conducted by Skagway High School’s Kent Fielding (English teacher) and his students Shelby Surdyk and Erica Harris. Through their extensive research into Marshallese culture and history, they developed a passion about the Marshallese people and a desire to educate others about the effects of nuclear proliferation and nuclear testing.
After traveling and performing in the Marshall Islands, Fielding and his students capitalized on an opportunity given by the Hiroshima Peace Museum to host Ms. Sasamouri to speak about her experiences following the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. Given the subject matter, Fielding and his high school students sought to bring a speaker from the Marshall Islands, which sparked the interest of both Mayor Matayoshi and Dr. Barker, who will be speaking at the conference. Other speakers and presenters throughout the conference have been brought by a mutual interest concerning nuclear technology and wartime.
The entirety of the three day Nuclear Awareness Conference will be held at the University of Alaska Southeast’s Egan building. Further questions and comments should be directed towards the events organizing sponsor, the UAS Alpha Phi Omega (Alpha Zeta Theta Chapter) at: apo@uas.alaska.edu.