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Ahfachkee celebrates class of 2023

The Ahfachkee School graduating class of 2023 poses together May 22, 2023. From left to right are Billie Cypress, Maggie May Jimmie, Akira Cabral, Cyiah Avila, Maria Villarreal, Kassim Stockton Jr., Rosalinda Jimmie and Anthony Wells. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Resplendent in white caps, gowns and patchwork, eight Ahfachkee School graduates proudly accepted their high school diplomas at the school’s graduation ceremony May 22.

“I’m proud to stand before the class of 2023,” said Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie. “You are our future leaders. Remember the opportunity to achieve greatness is always in your grasp. You are the descendants of warriors.”

“I hope today is the first of many graduations for you,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers. “Your hard work has paid off.”

The Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium was filled with the graduates’ families and friends. Principal Philip Baer and keynote speaker Lee Zepeda, executive director of Administration and a former Ahfachkee teacher and principal, provided graduates some inspirational words to live by.

Valedictorian Maggie May Jimmie addresses her classmates and the audience. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“You have worked hard, persevered through challenges and demonstrated remarkable dedication to your studies,” Baer said. “Today we celebrate your achievements and look ahead to the bright futures that await each and every one of you.”

Baer stressed the importance of embracing Seminole culture as the graduates continue their life’s journey.

“You are the future leaders of the Seminole Tribe and your education has prepared you to take on the responsibilities that come with that role,” he said. “I encourage you to use the skills you have acquired to serve your community with integrity, compassion and a commitment to justice and equality.”

Zepeda noted that this is a happy time of year, but also one of transition for the graduates.

“Students, you need to be recognized for the work you put in,” Zepeda said. “You made it past obstacles and kept your eye on the goal. Keep your dreams alive, never stop being curious, never stop learning and keep moving forward.”

After the speeches, the graduates left the stage to present gratitude gifts to those family and friends who are important to them. Gratitude gifts are a longstanding and heartfelt tradition at Ahfachkee that usually results in hugs and a few tears.

The Warrior Award, which is given to the graduate who best demonstrated characteristics of being a warrior, was presented to Akira Cabral.

Kassim Stockton Jr. smiles with “23” in lights behind him. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Salutatorian Kassim Stockton Jr. was bestowed with an honor cord by assistant principal Nuria Suarez. Valedictorian Maggie May Jimmie addressed her classmates. She said she had been bullied as a young girl in another school, which impacted her over the years.

“I stand here today fully aware of my worth, reconnected with my culture and grateful to still be standing,” Jimmie said. “I am so thankful for being able to embrace my identity and build my self-confidence. You did that, Ahfachkee.”

Rosalinda Jimmie enjoys the moment at graduation. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Jimmie told the class that they are not only celebrating graduation, but also the strength, formidability and resoluteness that got them to the finish line.

“We are individuals who are now ready to step out in the world,” she said. “A world where we can be change agents who will impact the lives of others. There is a saying: ‘be the change you want to see.’ My fellow classmates, are you ready for the challenge? I know I am.”

After receiving their diplomas, the students celebrated with family and friends as they let the impact of graduation sink in.

“It feels good to see everyone in my class succeed,” Stockton said.

“I don’t think it’s kicked in yet that I graduated,” Avila said.

“It’s emotional, you’re realizing high school is over,” Cypress said. “I’m confused, but I feel the love in here.”

“It feels great,” Villarreal said. “I did it, I made it.”

Cyiah Avila receives congratulations from Lee Zepeda, executive director of Administration. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Billie Cypress receives her diploma from Ahfachkee School principal Philip Baer. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
It’s time to turn the tassels for the Ahfachkee class of 2023. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Celebrating by the 2023 graduates. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at