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Students trip the light fantastic at Education’s incentive award gala

incentivesgala09HOLLYWOOD — During the height of summer, the previous school year may be nothing more than a memory to students, but to the Education Department it is still something to commemorate. A gala was held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood on July 11 to honor the students who successfully completed the year with good grades, a GED or a graduation.

Honorees included 40 high school graduates, 33 post-secondary students who completed two- or four-year degrees and 26 people who earned GEDs.

The ballroom was decked out befitting a red-carpet event – roses, crystal and sequins adorned the tables and attendees dressed for the occasion. The program included remarks from Tribal officials and a keynote speech by motivational storyteller, leadership expert, author and warrior D.J. Eagle Bear Vanas.

After awards were presented, music blared and the dance floor opened for business.

“It’s always good to celebrate the accomplishments of students,” said President Tony Sanchez Jr.

One by one, officials congratulated the students and offered words of wisdom.

“Choose your path and your friends wisely,” said Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers. “Whatever your accomplishments, hold your head high and your feet on the ground and you won’t go wrong.”

Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger believes an education is the most important asset a person can have.

“I’ve always believed in education; it’s the biggest gun you can put on your hip,” he told the students and their families. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today without an education. At the end of the day, education is everything.”

Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola told students he wished he had listened to his parents and gone further in school.

“You guys are the future of the Seminole Tribe of Florida – you have everything at your fingertips,” he said. “We’re behind you.”

The message of the evening was that effort will be rewarded.

“Keep working hard and you’ll get to the goals you want,” said Immokalee Liaison Raymond Garza. “Stick with your education and you will go further in life.”

Vanas, a member of the Odawa Nation and a former U.S. Air Force Officer, wanted to inspire students about the power education has on a life and a community.

“The traditional warrior path is rooted in service to our communities, and education is the best way to get there,” he said. “I want them to walk out of here with their heads held high and excited about the future.”

During his keynote address, Vanas praised the students for their achievements.

“I’m a die-hard advocate of education,” he said. “The most valuable resource in Indian Country is our youth. We need to invest in youth to make them the strong leaders of tomorrow. Education allows us to go out into the world and succeed. The difference between the haves and the have-nots in this country often comes down to education. Education is not a luxury; it is an absolute necessity in the world today.”

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