A bright future lay in wait for Jessica Michelle Osceola as she graduated from Orange County High School in Virginia on June 9. She was an honors student throughout her high school career and the recipient of numerous awards.
The daughter of Jason Gabriel Osceola and Wanda Griffin has already been accepted by Florida State University (FSU). She is the granddaughter of Guy R. Osceola, who broke educational barriers in the early 1960s when he received a scholarship to Pembroke University upon graduation from Everglades High School.
Immediately following graduation, Jessica and her family moved from Virginia to Tallahassee in order to be close to FSU. She will be majoring in psychology with a possible minor in criminal law. Not being one to waste any time, she already enrolled in summer courses.
Jessica always enjoyed school and found that books opened new worlds. From the time she was in elementary school, she set high academic standards for herself. She would establish achievement goals, and her high grades reflected her success in obtaining them.
As Jessica changed schools, made new friends and was influenced by a wide variety of teachers, she developed a keen sense of social awareness that will surely be beneficial in her chosen career.
“Jessica is a sweet, caring girl, and I couldn’t be more proud of her,” said her mother, Wanda Griffin. “She’s always thinking of other people and focusing on her studies. I told her that God gave her to me first so that I wouldn’t be afraid to have more children. She is a true gift and inspiration to all.”
At first, Jessica Motlow did not like the idea of going to an all-girls school.
“I hated it,” she admits, referring to Tampa’s prestigious Academy of the Holy Names, which covers grades nine-12. “But then I grew to appreciate the high level of academics.
“We would have to stay up all night just to get our homework done,” said Jessica, one of three Tampa Tribal member high school graduates for 2012. “It was tough, but we were all the better for it.”
More than 100 years old, Academy of the Holy Names is one of Florida’s most prestigious schools, with an excellent record of sending almost 100 percent of its graduates to college. Jessica, daughter of Clarence and Lisa Motlow, will attend Florida State University.
While it is great to be a Seminole joining the FSU Seminole Nation, Jessica said it was the academics that won her over.
“The academic side of FSU reminded me of my high school,” she said. “I felt it would be a nice transition from high school to college.”
Jessica plans to take a pre-medicine track as an undergraduate and then attend medical school with a goal to become a psychiatrist.
Jonathan Robbins is a Big Cypress Tribal member who is graduating from Ahfachkee.
Basketball has been his passion since he was 10 years old. This past year, he received the MVP award for his school’s basketball team, scoring 32 points in his highest scoring game. He also plays for the J.U.S. travel team, which won the NAYO tournament this year.
“It’s a fun sport to play and you can do a lot of traveling during the summer also,” said Jonathan, who said he plans to “retire” from the sport to focus on academics next year.
His favorite subjects in high school were math and history, and he earned a GPA of about 3.0.
Jonathan applied to Edison State College and Florida Gulf Coast University and is waiting on replies to determine where he’ll be in the fall. He wants to major in business management administration and said he hopes “to give back to the Tribe what I learned.”
He’d like to help improve the Tribe’s casino business since he saw how much it helped the Tribe already.
His advice to Tribal youth is this: “The more you further your education, the more you’ll succeed in life.”
Lois Billie, of the Brighton Reservation, made history June 11 when she walked across the stage at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center and received her high school diploma from Okeechobee High School.
Lois, the daughter of Betty and Sandy Billie Jr., became the first one in her family to graduate from high school.
“I feel very accomplished for that,” she said.
Lois has a 2-year-old daughter, Dyani Billie-Kayda.
“It was definitely a struggle,” Lois said about balancing school and motherhood. “ I would go to school from 6 (a.m.) to 2 (p.m.) and then come home to my daughter and be so tired.”
She was determined to finish high school, not only for herself, but also for her daughter.
“My mom pushed me,” she said. “She didn’t want me to drop out like all the other girls, and I wanted to graduate and set a good example for my daughter. Your education is something no one can take away from you; it will always be there.”
Lois was a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions. She was also awarded her vocational completer certificate in visual design, where she became certified in Photoshop and proficient in photography.
She plans to attend Indian River State College in Okeechobee during the fall and then eventually transfer to Florida State University to study business management.
“I want to come back and work for the Tribe and do good things to help them out,” she said.
She wants to thank her mom, dad and boyfriend, Anthony, for all their help and support.
She said she is definitely going to miss her friends and will cherish the fond memories of high school, including the infamous wood-hauling day for the Homecoming bonfire where she and her cousins made a competition out of it. She said she is definitely looking forward to her future.
“I’m nervous and excited,” she said. “My life is just beginning.”
Laboring through four years of honors and advanced placement classes at Pine Crest School paid off big for Tribal member Braudie Blais-Billie.
The recent high school graduate earned a coveted spot at Columbia University in New York this August. Columbia receives around 35,000 applications a year and accepts only 1,400 – or just 4 percent of applicants.
“I wanted to get into Columbia really badly, so I wanted to do the best I could,” Braudie said. “Columbia is really diverse, so I’m really excited to meet a lot of different people and live in the city.”
While she hasn’t decided what major she would like to pursue, she said she has considered sociology, psychology and economics, as well as writing. She’s keeping her options open for now.
“I want to go to college and be prepared and figure out what I want to do,” she said.
While in high school, Braudie participated in the French Club, performed in musicals, danced and even dabbled in cross country and track. A lot of her time, though, went toward pushing herself academically.
Braudie encourages every Tribal youth to work hard in school so they, too, can have similar opportunities. She said they should take advantage of every opportunity the Tribe gives them, including attending college tours.
“Keep up your grades, and stick with things,” she encourages students.
Seminole medicine man Bobby Henry remembers when Indians were not allowed to go to school. Tribal traditions, in many places, forbade “learning to read or write,” recalled Bobby, who nevertheless said he is “very proud of my grandson Ree-see for his graduation from high school.”
Ree-see is the longtime nickname for James and Lela Henry’s son, Dakota Reese Henry, who graduated last month from Stone Mountain School, an all-boys school in Black Mountain, N.C.
“I went to Tampa Catholic in the ninth and 10th grades,” said the graduate, “but I wasn’t doing very well. I was having problems, and my parents thought it was best to change schools.
“My mom found out about Stone Mountain School and sent me up there. I finished the last two grades up there, and it worked out fine. My mom and dad were very important in making sure I got a good education.”
Ree-see, who is considering continuing his education at Hillsborough Community College, is proud to be the first of elder Bobby Henry’s progeny to graduate from high school.
“He is such an important leader for the Seminole Tribe, and I am honored to be the first of Bobby Henry’s grandchildren to graduate,” said Ree-see, who, as the oldest grandchild, wanted to “set an example for my brothers and sisters. I want them to think, ‘If he can do it, we can do it.’”
Victoria Lacey, a Hollywood Tribal member, graduated from American Heritage School. She will be attending Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. this fall. She will be majoring in culinary arts with a concentration in baking and pastry. She hopes to own her own baking and pastry shop or possibly partner with the Seminole Hard Rock in the future
Cindi Adair graduated from Westlake Preparatory School. She will be working this summer with the Seminole Tribe’s Education Department during their summer camp since she enjoys working with young children. The Education Department is fortunate to have her on board this summer.
Rebecca Osceola graduated from Ahfachkee School on May 29. The Snake Clan member plans to attend Broward College to pursue a degree in education. She would like to return to Ahfachkee as a second-grade teacher in the future to teach Tribal youth.
Rebecca said she was able to finish high school with the support of her grandmother, mother, brothers and sisters. She said they also encourage her to follow her dreams.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Dalton Bert, son of Reese and Angie Bert, accepted his diploma from Okeechobee High School on June 11.
Dalton, a lifetime resident of the Brighton Reservation, may be the next Tribal member to join the U.S. Armed Forces. He was a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program during all four years of high school.
“In JROTC we learned about leadership, citizenship, community services and the Armed Forces,” he said.
JROTC kept Dalton busy throughout his school years and instilled values that he will take with him during his future endeavors, which may include enlisting in the Marines.
“The Marines because (the) few who earn it said it is an honor to be a Marine,” he said.
He is also considering a possible future studying environmental science at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.
“Who knows where I’ll be in 10 years,” he said.
Dalton encourages Tribal youth to learn about other types of people and races.
“Make sure to learn other culture(s) and languages,” he said.
He would like to thank his friends, classmates and teachers for all the fond memories he made during the past several years.
Stormin Youngblood, of the Brighton Reservation, has a set plan for his future and is ready to take on the next chapter of his life.
The son of Robert and Brenda Youngblood, he graduated from Okeechobee High School on June 11 and said he hopes that Tribal youth will follow in his and his classmates’ footsteps and finish school.
Many may know him for his enthusiasm in music. He was a member of his school’s marching band, where he played the keyboard and marimba.
His passion for music began with his father, who gave him his first electric guitar, but it was the music theory class and his school’s band director, Clint LaFlam, that pushed him to join the marching band.
“I took music theory because I wanted to expand my knowledge of music and learn to play classical music,” Stormin said. “And Mr. LaFlam encouraged me to get involved. I wish I would have sooner.”
In his senior year, Stormin received an award for being the top jazz band guitarist. And just last month, Stormin, along with about 90 fellow band members, traveled to Washington, D.C. to march and perform in the National Memorial Day Parade.
Stormin is currently a member of his own band, named Warvance. They play heavy-metal music, but he said they are trying to incorporate classical, European and folk melodies into their songs.
He has his future mapped out to eventually become a “musical genius” and play powerful music.
His first stop on his musical journey is Lynn University in Boca Raton, where he plans to study musical composition and learn how to become a classical violinist.
After that, he wants to head to Finland to attend the Sibelius Academy to broaden his musical talent with the folk accordion.
One day, he hopes to achieve his ultimate dream of playing in the Finish or London orchestra.
“I plan to do my best,” he said.
He said he is going to miss performing at all the competitions with his band members and thanks them for allowing him to play such wonderful music with other wonderful musicians.
For Tampa Seminole Pete Foret III, it was the basic logic of football that kept him in school: “I’ve been playing my whole life. I knew I wanted to play in college,” said Foret, last season’s starting quarterback for the mighty Lennard Longhorns. “You have to maintain a 2.0 in order to play. And the colleges are not going to take you if you don’t have good grades. I had to stay in school and keep studying and learning so I could achieve my dream.”
Pete’s persistence and dedication won out. He graduated from Lennard and will be attending Greensboro (N.C.) College next year where this talented member of the Panther Clan was recruited to join the Division 3 Greensboro Pride football team. “I’m really not the prototype quarterback,” he said. “I’m probably a little shorter than what you’d expect the prototype to be, although recruiters think I can be a good fit with the Greensboro program.
“So, in addition to football, my goal is to also make sure I graduate with a degree in athletic training or sports medicine. Even if I can’t play, I still want to be associated with sports.”
Akol Billie is a Hollywood Tribal member who graduated from American Heritage School this spring.
“It’s unbelievable that I’m already leaving,” he said.
What he enjoyed most about school was the great friends that he made along the way, he said. Although he considers himself to be reserved, he challenged himself to two years of drama classes in middle school.
Sociology was his favorite class this year because he liked learning about human behaviors and “how to read people.” He also had a passion for science classes, especially chemistry and biology.
“It was just a blast,” he said.
Akol made the most of his senior year, attending Prom and Grad Bash as well as getting accepted into the college of his choice.
He will attend Full Sail University for graphic design in the fall, and he is looking forward to the independence of living on his own.
“I like the art and spending most of my time on the computer,” he said of his choice of major. He is currently trying to teach himself Photoshop, and he likes to draw in his spare time.
Most of his 122 service hours were earned at his school’s Art Department; he helped put away projects and store materials. He also volunteered to help sell Tribal merchandise at the Tribe’s booth at this year’s Old Florida Festival in Naples.
For fun, Akol watches comedy shows.
“I like to laugh,” he said.
Akol’s advice to Tribal youth is this: “Stay focused. Don’t get off track. Stay following the right crowds.”
While attending Ahfachkee, Stevie Billie received a great education, played baseball, golf and basketball, and made lasting friendships.
“My high school experience was fun,” he said. “It was different every single day.”
Stevie said that by attending school every day, he was able to accomplish a lot. He excelled in sports and plans to attend either Florida Gulf Coast University or Haskell Indian Nations University, where he hopes to play golf and basketball.
“If I could give a piece of advice to younger students, it would be to get involved with everything and stay positive and out of drugs,” he said.
Ahfachkee graduate Ryan Cypress is most proud of his decision to return to school and receive his diploma.
He thanks his parents, Celesta and Cisero, for encouraging him to go back to school.
“They really pushed me to finish school,” he said.
Now that he has finished high school, Ryan plans to work for a couple years before pursuing a degree in marine biology from Florida Gulf Coast University.
Hollywood Tribal member Tucomah Robbins graduated from American Heritage School.
He was excited to graduate with a 3.7 GPA and 128 service hours completed, and he will continue his education at Florida State University.
“It means I get to start my own life and college,” he said of graduation.
He is considering joining a fraternity if he finds the right fit, and he plans to major in psychology, which was his favorite subject in school.
“It’s pretty interesting because of how much is not discovered about the human mind,” he said of his choice of major.
During his junior and senior years of high school, Tucomah was active in the community as one of the founding members of the Youth Council. He held the position of Hollywood representative and helped out with the Tribe’s Thanksgiving drive and Christmas gift collection. He also learned leadership skills and how the Tribe’s government works, which inspired him to set a big goal for himself.
“I want to become Chairman of the Tribe,” he said, to help his own people and keep tradition alive.
Tucomah also participated in the Tribe’s culture exchange program, cleaning up parks and visiting with members of the Hualapai Nation in Arizona and doing a week-long traditional canoe journey with Muckleshoot Indians in Washington.
For fun, he likes playing video games and listening to music.
Tucomah would like to give this advice to Tribal youth: “Education really is an important tool. As I grew up, I learned that no one can take your education away from you, and it’s one thing you can hold on to for the rest of your life.”
Hollywood Tribal member Huston Osceola graduated from Paladin Academy. He hopes to become a music producer or study business management. In the meantime, he will work for his father’s chickee company and might work for the Tribe later on.
“I wanted to thank all my family for their support in helping finish my secondary education,” he said.
Ariah Osceola, of Hollywood, graduated from Hollywood Christian School and will attend St. Thomas University in Florida. She received a $10,000 scholarship for her athletic abilities and will be starting for the women’s basketball team.
Karlito Wargolet, of the Big Cypress Reservation, graduated from American Heritage School on May 20. Although he attended Westlake Preparatory School his freshman year and Cardinal Gibbons his sophomore year, he completed his high school career at Heritage because of its reputation for being a college prep school.
“High school was challenging,” he said, “but it was fun all four years. There really wasn’t a dull moment.”
During high school, Karlito excelled in basketball, and he had the opportunity to travel to Lakeland for the State Championships with his varsity team. Although they finished as state runners-up, he said the experience was great.
Karlito will attend Florida State University beginning this summer and plans to major in marketing. He looks forward to his college career and encourages Tribal youth to learn as much as possible when they are in school because “you are going to use it in the future.”
“Take everything teachers give you and embrace everything teachers give you,” he said. “Be open minded.”
Big Cypress Tribal member Cooper Rivers graduated from Wellspring Academy of California this spring with a 3.28 GPA.
She earned the highest grade in the English Department for the past year, but her favorite subject was science.
“We did a lot of labs,” she said. “It was really hands on and more exciting than the other classes.”
Cooper got accepted into Miami Dade College and will attend in the fall. She is going to college to be a pathologist – embalming bodies for funerals.
“It’s just interesting,” she said.
After a year, she would like to transfer to St. Johns University and would eventually like to open up her own funeral home.
Cooper’s advice to Tribal youth is this: “They can’t expect to just live off of the dividend forever. They need to do something because it may not always be there. They need to finish high school and go to college.”
Dillon Thomas graduated from Ahfachkee School on May 29. He thanks his family and guidance counselor for helping him make it to the graduation stage.
“They were really there for me when I needed positive support,” he said.
Dillon said he hopes to set a good example for his little brothers and sisters. He would like them to be proud of him and to follow in his footsteps.
“A piece of advice I would give to younger students is go to class, not to skip and (to) do your homework because that is really important,” he said. “Do as well as you can.”
Rowdey Osceola proudly accepted his high school diploma from Ahfachkee principal Lucy Dafoe on May 29 among seven of his classmates. He plans to attend art school in New Mexico.
“If there’s one footprint I will leave at Ahfachkee, it will probably be my artwork,” he said. “Art shows me I can express my own freedom in a unique way.”
Rowdey credits Ahfachkee for giving him a greater grasp on his culture, as well as all the other students at Ahfachkee, and for helping him pursue his passion for art. He said he also appreciates the support and encouragement he received from the school to never give up. He encourages other students never give up, even when the going gets tough.
“Keep moving forward,” he said.
Dannee Billie is a Big Cypress Tribal member who graduated from Clewiston High School.
She played basketball all four years of high school, having played the positions of point-guard and shooting guard. Last year, she received the MVP award for her team.
“I just like playing basketball…meeting new people and playing with different people,” she said.
Her favorite parts of senior year were going to Prom and Grad Bash. She loved hanging out with her friends and going on rides.
Psychology is her favorite subject in school.
“It was just interesting learning about different disorders,” she said.
Dannee hopes to attend Palm Beach State College. She plans to apply soon, but she has not decided on a major yet.
Dannee’s advice to Tribal youth is this: “Stay focused on school and get good grades.”
With the encouragement of his mother, Jalen Cypress attended school every day, making it possible for him to receive his high school diploma among his Ahfachkee classmates on May 29.
Jalen encourages students to stay in school and get their education as well. With the education he received, Jalen hopes to design video games and to also work on his art.
“I would like to thank the community for helping me through school and helping me graduate,” he said.