Okeechobee High School celebrated the graduation of the class of 2020 in a special ceremony at the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center on May 30. It was unclear whether a ceremony would be possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic which caused schools to shut down across the nation and forced many ceremonies to be held online only.
Ginger Jones, the mother of graduate and Tribal member Edward Gaucin, was grateful that the administration found a way to let parents attend the ceremony.
“I’m just really thankful that I’m able to witness this graduation and even though we are in these situations, this is a special day for them,” explained Jones. “Considering that two days ago we were only going to be watching it on Facebook, to me, I’m just really happy to be here as a part of the ceremony.”
The class was celebrated with a socially distanced ceremony that included family members in the stands. All participants were required to wear masks except when they were on stage to speak or accept their diploma. Graduates and their families in the stands were required to sit six feet apart from one another. The ceremony was both live-streamed on Facebook and filmed by Black Bull Media Films for family members who could not attend the ceremony.
The ceremony was facilitated by Principal Lauren Myers and featured several student speeches focusing on the celebration of their accomplishments, their gratitude for their community, and their desire to keep persevering.
Tribal member and former Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School student Kamani Smith led his class in the turning of the tassels to mark the official transition from high school student to graduate. During the ceremony, Smith emphasized the symbolism of a diploma and reminds students to be thankful for those who support them.
“The diplomas that we receive today represent the fulfillment of the commitment that we made to ourselves and the commitment that our friends, family, and teachers have made to us,” Smith said. “Whatever we have accomplished thus far and whatever success we may find in the near future we owe in great measure to them.”
Jenna Brown, another former PECS student, followed Smith with a speech encouraging students to remain hopeful despite the circumstances the virus may have caused.
“Today we say goodbye to high school, say goodbye to everything that was familiar during the past 18 years, and say goodbye to our childhoods,” Brown said. “But today is the start of the rest of our lives”
The ceremony closed with words from class delegate Edwin Reyes who, like many students in the crowd that day, felt a deep connection to his classmates as they move forward during these uncertain times.
“Regardless of what you do, regardless of where life takes you,” said Reyes. “Never stop believing in yourself. Never stop dreaming, and never stop being a Brahman.”
The Seminole Tribune congratulates the following Seminoles for their graduation from Okeechobee High School: