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Ahfachkee School class of 2022 receives diplomas, praise

Graduates from the Ahfachkee class of 2022 celebrate by tossing their caps into the air June 2 at the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Nine proud Ahfachkee School high school graduates dressed in caps, gowns and patchwork were presented with their diplomas June 2 in front of family and friends at the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium in Big Cypress. It was the school’s first in-person graduation since 2019.

The class of 2022 graduates are Carlise Bermudez, Athena Bert, Lauren Doctor, Marina Garcia, Hunter Howard, Tehya Howard, Daleen Osceola, Jordan Osceola and Timothy Tigertail.

Seminole Tribe leadership praised them for their accomplishments.

“I see hope and wisdom in this room,” said Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie. “I am reminded of the wisdom of our ancestors who worked together to achieve what our tribe is today. I know you will all continue the greatness of our people. You studied diligently when you could have just hung out. We celebrate what you did to get here today. You came from people who didn’t give up. I have no doubt your talents will lead us to a better world.”

The accolades continued as Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers addressed the graduates.

“We celebrate the achievements of the Ahfachkee Warriors,” Rep. Bowers said. “You are ready to take the next step and I know you will become amazing leaders. You have started to create your success story and your success story will be our success story.”

Two of Brighton Councilman Larry Howard’s children were among the graduates. He congratulated the leaders, parents, families, teachers and school staff for being there to help get all the students to the finish line.

“These kids don’t want to give up,” Councilman Howard said. “These are our leaders of tomorrow.”

Principal Dorothy Cain spoke passionately when she told the grads they were the best class Ahfachkee has seen.

“You are an amazing group of kids,” she said. “We’ve been virtual for several years, which is a very difficult thing to do. It’s a very big deal to finish and get your credits to graduate.”

Cain said the graduates have a few important traits that will serve them well in life.

“You are dedicated to meeting your goals, you persevere and continue to move forward and you are resilient,” Cain said. “You made it through when many students around the country did not. Chase your dreams, never stop learning, live life to the fullest and do you best at everything you do.”

Lee Zepeda, executive director of Administration and former Ahfachkee teacher and principal, delivered the keynote address. After congratulating the students and the people in their lives who had an impact on them, he spoke about the importance of identity.

“Who you are is so much more important than what you do,” Zepeda said. “When you find out who you are, it changes everything. You will know what to do. Identity is tied to whatever you give your heart to and what you spend your time doing. It is your drive, your passion and what makes you who you are. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.”

After the speeches, the graduates left the stage to carry out the longstanding Ahfachkee tradition of students presenting gratitude gifts to those who are important to them. Guidance counselor Chip Osborn emceed as the students found their loved ones in the crowd and gave them the gifts and hugs.

The Warrior Award is given to the graduate who best demonstrated characteristics of being a warrior. English teacher Dr. Rona Olukolu presented the award to Daleen Osceola, along with an emotional speech about her fortitude.

Timothy Tigertail was the class salutatorian and Carlise Bermudez was the valedictorian. Bermudez addressed her fellow graduates.

“Having a voice is a powerful tool,” Bermudez said. “Each graduate is a persistent individual who didn’t give up. I see artistic and creative people and advocates who are willing to stand up for others. I’m grateful to have spent my high school career with each of you. High school tested our resiliency and taught us how to quickly transform.”

The graduates joyfully received their diplomas from Cain. Hunter Howard was so proud that he took the microphone and made an impromptu speech of his own.

“It took me 19 years to get here and people thought I wouldn’t graduate,” he said as he raised his diploma over his head. “But I’ve felt so great during these last few months.”

Graduate Timothy Tigertail beams as he shakes the hand of Ahfachkee principal Dorothy Cain while receiving his diploma June 2 at the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
From left, Brighton Councilman Larry Howard, Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie, Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers and executive director of Administration Lee Zepeda congratulate Daleen Osceola on her graduation. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Valedictorian Carlise Bermudez gives the valedictorian speech at the Ahfachkee graduation ceremony. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Graduate Hunter Howard holds his high school diploma proudly over his head. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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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 beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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