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Preschoolers celebrate graduation

After a few years in the comfort and safety of preschool, preschoolers around the reservations donned caps and gowns, said goodbye to what was and took their first steps into what will be their future.


One at a time, eight graduates proudly walked through a gauntlet of loved ones as they made their way down the red carpet and onto the stage May 1 for the Immokalee Preschool graduation.

Jordan Rodriguez introduces herself to the crowd at the Immokalee Preschool graduation. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“Teamwork between parents and teachers made this possible,” said Michelle Ford, preschool center manager. “The school puts great importance on learning, culture, friendship and having fun. They have a strong foundation and we feel we have given them a great start in life.”

The youngsters entertained the crowd with songs and skits. The dignitaries thanked the school and the parents for their efforts with the children. The personalities of the graduates came through as they walked down the carpet.

“This is such a great day for the Tribe,” said Lee Zepeda, executive director of administration. “I think I see a future chairman out there; he was busy greeting everyone.”

Elected officials weighed in on the significance of the day.

“We have eight future leaders here,” said President Mitchell Cypress. “I’m sure you will continue your educations and come back and work for the Tribe.”

“I’m proud of the parents for keeping your kids in school here,” said Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger. “This is just one of many graduations you will go to.”

Ray Garza, Immokalee Council project manager, thanked the staff for preparing the children for the next chapter of their lives.

“Our kids are our future and you got them off to a good start,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank.

With that, kids found their families and enjoyed a celebratory luncheon together.


April Billie gives daughter Azaliah Billie a big kiss as she makes her way down the aisle to receive her Big Cypress Preschool diploma. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

In a room decked out with a Hawaiian theme, preschoolers prepared to take their first graduation walk toward the next phase of

Autumn Jumper sings “America the Beautiful” at the beginning of the Big Cypress Preschool graduation program. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

their lives. Parents, family and friends filled the Boys & Girls Club auditorium May 15 as they waited for the little graduates in their caps and gowns.

But first, a few words to get them on their way.

“The door is wide open to them for whatever they choose,” said President Cypress. “I’m proud of every one of them.”

Rep. Frank thanked the staff and parents for working together on a job well done.

“Enjoy learning, it’s a lifetime trip,” he said. “May this be just the first of many graduations.”

The 10 graduates will attend the Ahfachkee School in the fall. Preschool manager Andrea Jumper plans to infuse more of the Ahfachkee culture curriculum into the preschool going forward.

The proud young grads made their way through the crowd to their diplomas, which came with handshakes all around, and then joined their families for a hibachi style lunch under the balloon palm trees.


With 22 children, Brighton had the largest graduating class of any Seminole preschool this year. The crowded stage was echoed multiple times over in the audience as family and friends filled the Veterans Building to the brim on May 17 for the graduation.


The class of three and four year old students is a young one; they will attend Pre-K at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School next year.

“Take care of these young ones because they are our future,” said Brighton Board Rep. Larry Howard.

Colorful balloons and tablecloths created a festive atmosphere. The students said the pledge and performed the song “10 Little Indians” in Creek as well as acted as illustrations for “Brown Bear” book, which was read by two students.

Each student walked to center stage and faced the crowded room alone and introduced themselves in Creek, with a little help from language instructor Laverne Thomas. Individuals had their own relationship with the stage; some milked the time for all it was worth, others couldn’t wait to flee.

After a trip down memory lane in the form of a slide show, the grads did what they came to do. Diplomas in hands, the triumphant young graduates joined their families for a festive lunch.


The Hollywood Preschool held a royalty-themed graduation for the four year-old class on May 22 at Seminole Estates. Family, friends, and the students themselves were dressed to impress. Attire consisted of formal and traditional clothing.

The little graduates were escorted down a red carpet into the ceremony by parents and other family members in royal fashion. Students all showed off their reading skills by reading a few sentences from a children’s book. They also performed songs with culture instructor Paul Buster playing guitar.

All 17 students received a diploma and were congratulated by President Mitchell Cypress, Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola and Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon “Ollie” Wareham.

Derrick Tiger contributed to this story.

Twins Kaillin and Lillie Coleman get some help from mother Kalgary Johns as they make their way down the aisle to get their preschool diplomas at the Brighton Preschool graduation. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Graduate Elias Billie feels the love from his grandmother Cecelia Tigertail and mother Sonia Billie at the Big Cypress Preschool graduation. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Wearing a shirt, tie, cap and gown, Kih’yon Hodge us all set to graduate from Brighton Preschool. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
An excited group of Big Cypress Preschool graduates make their way to the ceremony on May 15. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
With tassel in hand, Jonathan Rodriguez proudly walks down the red carpet to collect his Immokalee Preschool diploma on May 1. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Immokalee Preschool graduate Nathanael Osceola gives Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank a high five as preschool center manager Michelle Ford, Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger and Immokalee Council project manager Ray Garza look on. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Hollywood Preschoolers line up in their caps and gowns as the graduation ceremony comes to a close. (Photo Derrick Tiger)
Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon “Ollie” Wareham, left, and Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola congratulate a Hollywood Preschool graduate. (Photo Derrick Tiger)
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

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