Seminole preschoolers donned caps and gowns last month and walked into their futures amid cheers from family and friends.
Immokalee, Brighton, Big Cypress and Hollywood preschools gave the students a first-class send off to kindergarten with themes including Disney, school days, Dr. Seuss and superheroes.
Dressed in graduation garb embellished with patchwork, the youngsters took what might have been the longest walks of their young lives to introduce themselves in Mikasuki or Creek before receiving their diplomas and shaking hands of Tribal leaders.
On May 3, 10 Immokalee graduates performed the entire program in Mikasuki, coached by culture teacher Tammy Billie. She taught the students the language the way her great grandfather taught her.
“Elaponke was my first language,” Billie said. “We’re a beautiful people with a beautiful culture. If we don’t teach them now, how do we expect it to carry on?”
Tribal leaders spoke before the graduates received their diplomas.
“In 13 years from now they’ll be going through another graduation,” said President Mitchell Cypress. “I’m glad to see these future leaders speaking Mikasuki and am proud to be here. They all have bright futures.”
In Brighton, 19 preschoolers dressed in angelic white patchwork adorned gowns earned their diplomas on May 10. The students will attend Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School for pre-kindergarten in the fall.
“Remember that your kids are our kids,” said Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. to the parents and other family members. “We are all a family. One day one of these kids may be standing where I am today.”
Brighton Board Rep. Larry Howard agreed that the day was special for the students and the families.
“Kids have great expectations for what they want to do in life and it starts here today,” Rep. Howard said. “No one knows what God has in store for us, but we as parents have a say so for what we do for our kids.”
“Parents, don’t let up,” added Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. “Keep them off the 4-wheelers and dirt bikes and don’t let them forget where they came from. It’s a chore to live in two different worlds, but it’s necessary; don’t forget that.”
With that, the students said the pledge and sang songs in Creek. Then Brighton parents escorted their youngsters down the aisle to the waiting line of elected officials all eager to shake the small hands.
A record number of children, 20, graduated from the Big Cypress Preschool on May 17. Decked out in cheerful yellow gowns, the students confidently performed in Mikasuki before getting their diplomas. Graduates will attend Ahfachkee School’s pre-kindergarten in the fall.
“The future is here,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank. “What we put into it today will pay off in the future. If teachers and parents teach them everything they can and we give them the right tools now, they will be ready as adults to take over the Tribe.”
Super powers are not just for fighting crime and protecting cities; they are also for helping students soar to educational heights.
On May 24, 18 Hollywood students graduated preschool and showed off the super powers they learned during the past year. Among the students were Alizayah Alvarado, Aliviahna Aquino, Rhea Brown, Lakota Correa, Jordan Cypress, Peyton Cypress, Wahoo Jackson, Jakobe Jimmie-Rowe, Jakiyah Johns, Jeremiah Johns, McKenna Macias, Chaos Micco, Kenna Cohen-Osceola, Kendrick Osceola, Mitchell Primeaux, Russell Primeaux, Jaisley Stewart, and Elaynia Williams.
During the ceremony, the graduates demonstrated their powerful vocabularies and super singing and dancing before receiving their ceremonial preschool degrees. Between superhero capes and super graduate caps and gowns, the students told the world, in English and in Mikasuki, that their abilities are not limited.
In the midst of excitement for a bright future, some surprise guests appeared at the ceremony. Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Cat Woman flew through the doors, awing the children and getting them excited for the future ahead. Even with spidey senses and super strength, the surprise guests and community members made sure that the children know that real power comes from an education.
“These kids really are superheroes. They come to school every day excited to learn using their super knowledge and their super brain power,” Preschool Director Thommy Doud said. “We really do have a lot of resources available and we want to make sure we always take advantage of those resources.”
In addition to traditional classroom subjects, the children also learn about Seminole culture and language, how to be safe regarding bicycles, fire and water, and more.
Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola helped confer the preschool degrees and explained that the graduation is an exciting time to watch the children grow up. He encouraged parents to continuously push the children to grow and develop, work hard and strive to be the best versions of themselves.
“Another year has come and gone …and these kids on the stage are our most valuable resource,” he said. “These kids have the world at their fingertips. Not many kids can look forward to the bright future these kids have knowing that anything that they want to do is possible with the resources that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has.”