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First comes graduation, then the Navy for Brighton’s Eecho Billie

Pine School senior Eecho Billie, 18, receives his cap and gown and a graduation yard sign from Kelly Hilton-Green, an administrator from the school, in April at the Billie family’s home in Brighton. (Courtesy photo)

Just like any other high school senior, Eecho Billie wants to be able to turn his tassel and celebrate graduation with classmates – in person.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the country during what should be the best time in a high school student’s life – the spring of their senior year – questions remained as of press time whether graduation ceremonies would be altered or held at all. A virtual ceremony isn’t the way Billie would want his high school career to end.

“It would be pretty disappointing because I’ve been looking forward to walking across the stage to get my diploma,” said Billie, a senior at The Pine School in Hobe Sound, where he’s attended since grade seven and played lacrosse and soccer.

Since the pandemic forced campuses to close in March, Billie has been completing his studies online at home on the Brighton Reservation.

While schools and districts wrestle with what direction to pursue for graduation, Billie already knows where he’s headed after high school. The 18-year-old will follow in his father’s footsteps and join the U.S. military.

Billie has enlisted in the U.S. Navy. His goal is to become a Navy SEAL – the Mount Everest of military challenges. Knowing it’s an incredibly difficult challenge that only few achieve – the SEALs are often regarded to have the toughest military training in the world – is what appeals to him the most.

“Just being the best of the best,” he said. “It takes a lot to make it through.”

A 2017 article from the Independent online publication in Great Britain listed the eight most elite special forces in the world. The U.S. Navy SEALs were ranked No. 1, noting that “many foreign militaries base their special ops on the SEALs.

Billie, the son of former Chairman James E. Billie and Maria Billie, and brother of Miss Jr. Florida Seminole Aubee Billie, received the blessing of his dad to join the military. At first, Billie thought about joining the Army, where his dad served in the Vietnam War, but he switched his decision to the Navy.

“It didn’t matter what branch it was; he was always for it,” Billie said.

Shooting is one skill Billie has excelled at which should help in the military. Whether hunting wild hogs for leisure or competing in international events, he’s had success with guns. He won two gold medals in rifle shooting at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto. He was eligible to compete in 2020 NAIG this summer, but it has been cancelled.

Now Billie hopes his graduation ceremony doesn’t meet a similar fate. He did receive his cap and gown and a graduation yard sign in April thanks to Pine School administrators who presented their seniors with those items in surprise home visits.

“We miss all of our students right now but it’s especially tough for our seniors,” Head of School Binney Caffrey posted on Facebook. “This is meant to be a time of togetherness and celebration – they’ve all worked so hard to reach this point! This was about showing them in a tangible way how very much they mean to us.”

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at