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Immokalee celebrates preschool graduates

The Immokalee preschool class of 2022 performs on the stage during the graduation program May 18. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

IMMOKALEE — The Immokalee preschool class of 2022 took the first steps to the rest of their lives as they walked down the red carpet ready to receive their diplomas May 18.

Proudly dressed in bright red caps and gowns, the eight graduates beamed as they stepped onto the stage. The class recited the Pledge of Allegiance in English and Elaponke, sang a few songs and each grad took the microphone to tell the assembled crowd a little bit about themselves, including their favorite color.

The students’ preschool years were disrupted by the pandemic; they spent two years doing virtual school from home.

“Today they are here live and in person,” said tribalwide preschool director Thommy Doud. “They worked so hard and are ready to go on to kindergarten.”

Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie, Immokalee Board Liaison Ralph Sanchez and Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers all congratulated the students.

“We all wish you loads of love as you graduate today,” Rep. Bowers said. “Never stop growing, exploring, learning and challenging yourself. Be brave, strong and happy and know you are loved by all of us.”

Executive Director of Administration Lee Zepeda thanked the families for raising the children.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” Zepeda said. “It goes like that, so enjoy all these moments.”

Preschool teacher Alex Ibarra said it wasn’t easy coming back from virtual school and thanked the parents for their help.

“We want them to become independent learners,” Ibarra said. “Our students are well equipped to take on the next chapter of their lives. We feel we have given them a great start in life.”

Graduate Xion Garcia is embraced by his proud father Edward Garcia after the Immokalee preschool graduation. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Graduate Chance Rodriguez shakes preschool director Thommy Doud’s hand before receiving his diploma. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Alayna Ortega walks on the red carpet to get her preschool diploma. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
From left, Executive Director of Administration Lee Zepeda, Immokalee Board Liaison Ralph Sanchez, Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie and Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers congratulate Kenai Micco during the Immokalee graduation ceremony. (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