BRIGHTON – The Covid-19 pandemic altered or canceled traditional spring rituals for students throughout the country, but it didn’t lessen the Brighton Reservation’s appreciation for its new graduates.
This year’s college, high school and middle school graduates from the reservation were honored by the Brighton Council Office on June 5 at the front of the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School. It was an opportunity to end the school year – one which has been unique for everyone – on an uplifting note.
Arrivals were spread out through the morning and early afternoon amid plenty of safety precautions. Students were required to sanitize their hands upon arrival and departure. They also had to wear gloves and face coverings. Each graduate received gifts from the Council Office. Photographer Robert Kippenberger took photos of the grads with Brighton Councilman Larry Howard in front of a colorful display of balloons. For the middle school grads, the photo-op also included PECS administrative assistant Michele Thomas. Some high school students wore their graduation outfits, or at least caps.
“We have an opportunity to appreciate these kids that are moving up in life,” Councilman Howard said. “This year’s class in Brighton, we probably have the most graduates we’ve ever had, which speaks volumes.”
More than 30 students stopped by for the honors, including college grads, those heading into high school, college or the military, and those moving on to other educational or job-related endeavors. Councilman Howard described the students as “the future of the Tribe.” He wants them to be successful in their pursuits.
“I encourage them always to go on and get a higher education more than just a high school diploma,” he said. “I hope they go out and pursue a career and be able to do things for themselves and their family and the Tribe.”
A sampling of some of the high school graduates’ next stops include: Clarks Summit University (Kaleb Thomas), Dental Assisting Academy of the Palm Beaches (Brienna Brockman), Haskell Indian Nations University (Justina Martinez), Indian River State College (Janessa Nunez, Julia Smith, Dante Thomas, Mallorie Thomas), South Florida State College (Ozzy Osceola), U.S. Navy (Eecho Billie) and cosmetology school (Madison Busbin, Luzana Venzor).
Sean Osceola already has a couple years of college experience. He finished up his two years at Pasco-Hernando State College in New Port Richey, where he was a pitcher on the baseball team. Osceola helped the squad reach the NJCAA Division II World Series in 2019. He said he’s considering a few college options for his next step, but hasn’t decided yet.
Many of the middle school grads were back at PECS for the first time since March when the school went on spring break and didn’t reopen as classes shifted to online while the pandemic spread throughout the country and the world. They brought back the school computers they used for distance learning in their final months as PECS students and picked up awards and yearbooks from the school, and gift bags from the Council Office.
In a changing of the guard, many of the middle school grads, who represent the class of 2024, will be headed to Moore Haven High School or Okeechobee High School, which are where most of the reservation’s high school grads from the class of 2020 just finished.