Toni Sanchez knows what it’s like to feel like she’s never enough.
Sanchez, a Seminole tribe member who holds a creative writing degree from Florida State University, spoke Thursday, December 15, to graduates at the Rite to A-rak-ke-ce-tv Cultural Graduation Ceremony about growing up with Seminole and Mexican heritage and feeling as though she didn’t belong completely to either group. Her time at Florida State in and out of the classroom, she said, helped her change her view.
While there are many ways to categorize Seminoles in an anthropological sense, she said, it was their actions that defined them.
“Being a Florida Seminole meant you were not going to be pushed around, that you stood up for what you believed in, no matter if you were facing an overwhelming opposition,” Sanchez said. “You took in others who are marginalized and without a home, since we are all in search of a home. You don’t believe in accepting the terms set before you, and if your opposition is foolish enough to underestimate you, god help them. Defeat is never to be accepted, only treated as a precursor to the next battle.”
“That sounds a lot like me, or at least the person I want to be,” she told the graduates. “And I hope it sounds a lot like you, or at least the person you want to be.”
The Center for Leadership & Social Change, Student Government Association, and Center for Academic Retention & Enhancement recognized 65 graduating seniors at the ceremony. The name “A-rak-ke-ce-tv” is the Seminole Creek phrase meaning “to honor,” and the ceremony is meant to honor students’ accomplishments through their journey, honor their families and friends for their continued support, and honor what it truly means to be a Seminole.
With demand to participate growing each year, this semester marks the first time the ceremony has been offered for fall graduates. In May, 150 seniors graduating in the spring and summer were celebrated, with friends, family members and mentors placing a stole over graduates’ shoulders.
Florida State University’s cultural graduation program maintains a relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and works to highlight and honor Seminole culture and tradition. Each ceremony features a keynote by a member of the Seminole tribe.
Kevon Randall, who received a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Social Science, offered a student reflection to his classmates. He spoke about going through an extremely difficult year of loss, from which he learned to be patient and enjoy every day.
“Better yet,” he said, “I’ve started to enjoy second of it because I realized that even in the bad times you can pay homage to what you love … A lot of times we’re all going to go through things in life we can’t control, but the only thing you can control is your effort each and every day.”
Randall reminded his classmates to be happy as they enjoyed their final moments as Florida State students.
“I want y’all to go on and live the dream,” he said, “live it up to the fullest.”