BIG CYPRESS — A group of eight future Miss Florida Seminole and Jr. Miss Florida Seminole contestants woke up early on Saturday, May 18 to attend a Princess workshop at the Big Cypress Boys & Girls Club auditorium. By the end of the day, they each realized it was time well spent.

Led by Cheyenne Kippenberger, Miss Indian World / Miss Florida Seminole 2018-2019; Cassandra Jimmie, Miss Florida Seminole 2010-2011; and Randee Osceola, Miss Florida Seminole 2017-2018, the purpose of the workshop was to prepare the girls for the Seminole Princess Pageant in July. The day was filled with information, exercises and team building meant to inspire and build their confidence.

“You are here today because you want to be here,” said Jimmie. “You love the Seminole Tribe and this is your way of being part of history and making your mark. You never know where it will take you, but it will prepare you for anything.”

The girls — Carlise Bermudez, Thomlynn Billie, Tehya Howard, Alexis Jumper, Arianna Osceola, Jordan Osceola, Lola Veliz and Patsy Veliz — were encouraged to ask questions throughout the day on May 18.

The current and former princesses shared their experiences and offered some practical tips- such as making eye contact while talking to someone- but also emphasized that the pageant is about more than just winning.

Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger poses for a selfie with the participants in the Princess workshop on May 18 in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“The point of pageantry is to be the best you,” said Kippenberger. “Show the best you and you will come out of this with friendships and memories; it isn’t just about the competition. This is a sisterhood and you will always have it in your life.”

This was only the second princess workshop; the first was in 2016. Wanda Bowers, Princess Pageant Committee Chairwoman, was approached by Kippenberger and Jimmie, who wanted to lead another one. They both wished they had this opportunity when they ran for the title.

“I said it’s yours,” Bowers said. “This is a great turnout; it’s more fun with a group of girls. I hope to turn this over to the younger ladies when I retire. Now I can see this will go on.”

Carlise Bermudez confers with Patsy Veliz during an exercise at the Princess workshop. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

There were plenty of basics the contestants needed to learn. Jules Meyer, PR Pageant Coaches founder and former Miss Florida Seminole pageant judge, has been coaching pageant participants for more than a dozen years. She came to the workshop to help guide the girls, offer advice and share insight as to what judges are looking for.

“I hope you are excited about this journey, which is about getting to know yourself,” Meyer said. “Most people don’t get a chance to do that, so this is powerful. By getting up and being here this morning, you are walking the walk.”

An annual tradition the night before the Miss Florida Seminole pageant is a welcome banquet with the contestants and families, former princesses and the judges. The contestants are each expected to introduce themselves to the crowded room.

When they are not behind the podium, the girls sit and dine with the judges and others at the formal dinner. Everything during the banquet is scored by the judges.

Lola Veliz and Jordan Osceola share a laugh after creating sashes that describe each other during the Princess workshop. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“This is an amazing opportunity to show your personality,” Meyer said. “It is the judges’ first impression of you. Show off who you are, make your time at the table really count and be careful what you talk about. Pretend your grandmother is at the table and will hear everything you say.”

To break the ice and help the prospective princesses get used to speaking to people they may not know, the girls were paired off and had three minutes each to interview the other. It was the first of about half a dozen exercises to get them comfortable and thinking on their feet.

In those three minute interviews, the girls asked plenty of questions and learned a lot about each other. One girl loves pickles, someone’s favorite animal is an elephant, another girl likes to sew, one wants to be an artist and one wants to promote self-acceptance. Some shared some defining moments of their lives.

“I’m a tomboy, but when I watched the pageant and saw Allegra [Billie] win Jr. Miss [Florida Seminole], I knew I could do it,” said Carlise. “Now I wear skirts more, I’m trying to educate myself and I talk more to the elders.”

Meyer commended the girls on the information they gathered about each other, but wanted more.

“I’m looking for you all to be memorable,” she said. “Whatever it is, whether someone like pickles or the color purple, something might resonate with the judges. Judges aren’t looking for a perfect answer; they are looking for you to be perfectly you.”

As a judge, it’s difficult to remember everything about every contestant so it is critical to be memorable. Meyer had the girls write down 10 memorable things about themselves and then choose one to write on a separate piece of paper. After being picked from a bowl, everyone in the room had to figure out who wrote it. Some of the more memorable facts included one girl is learning to play golf, another draws every day after school and another almost caught an alligator while fishing.

“You all have an equal chance at winning,” said Meyer. “Judges watch and listen, but it’s 90% about how you make people feel. The judges are going to choose the ones who make them feel the best about the situation they are judging.”

Kippenberger, Jimmie and Osceola watched and listened intently before adding their advice and experience to the mix.

Before Kippenberger competed last summer for Miss Florida Seminole, she hadn’t thought about it much and didn’t think she had what it took to win. Her biggest fear was the interview with the judges. But she persevered and won the crown.

“This is the time to brag about yourself,” Kippenberger said about the interviews. “But we aren’t taught to do that, we are a very humble and reserved people. So I talked about what came from my heart.”

When she competed for Miss Indian World, Kippenberger prepared more. She made a choice to surround herself with people who inspired her and lost some friends along the way.

“Choose the people around you that build you up, not bring you down,” Meyer said. “If they are going down the wrong path, it’s time to get new friends. Surround yourself with goodness; my light is only as bright as those around me.”

After lunch, provided by Nadine Bowers at the Big Cypress senior center, the girls discussed the talent portion of the pageant.

Osceola competed a few times for Jr. Miss before she won Miss Florida Seminole. She tried a lot of different things for the talent competition, including songs and storytelling. Her advice went beyond the talent.

“The judges don’t know much about the Seminole Tribe,” Osceola said. “So show them something you already know, something you are comfortable with and can talk about. They want to see your confidence.”

“Do something that is second nature to you,” added Kippenberger. “Make it memorable.”

While displaying a talent, it is important for each contestant to maintain her own personality. Jimmie, who loves history, chose to show how Seminole clothing transitioned from the traditional to the modern.

“Use the talent that you can still be you,” Jimmie said. “You want to educate them, but be unique.”

Meyer encouraged the girls to start thinking about their talent now, to practice a lot and present it in front of people to get more comfortable.

Jeni Nelson, of Lakeland, came along with her granddaughter Carlise.

“I’m very proud of her,” Nelson said. “We were never allowed to be like that.”

Elsa Zamora, Jimmie’s mother, was proud of the way her daughter represents the Tribe and was pleased with the workshop.

“These girls can get along, help each other and work together as a family,” Zamora said. “They don’t see each other as envious. I love that; that’s what we need.”

One of the last exercises of the day was to write a brief introduction, stand behind a podium and deliver it. Some tips included to always smile, project your voice and speak confidently. Some of the group stood in the back of the room to make sure whoever spoke could be heard clearly.

When the first part of the workshop was complete, the girls went to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to learn more about Seminole history.

After a day of bonding and teambuilding, the girls forged friendships. What appeared to be nervousness and shy behavior melted away by the end of the day. Most didn’t know what to expect, but were glad they participated and said they gained confidence.

“Life’s going to throw you curve balls, but those are the things that will create who you are in life,” said Jimmie. “Whatever you do, do from the heart. If you are scared to try things and don’t, then you will never know what you are capable of. Go after it; grab life. The world will tell you that you can’t, but you can.”

The deadline to apply for the 62nd Seminole Princess Pageant is 5 p.m. .on July 15, no exceptions. The pageant will be held July 27 at 7 p.m. in the Hollywood headquarters auditorium.

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