Louise Gopher ended 2014 on a high note Dec. 13 when she received
an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Florida State University
for her contributions to the school and to her Tribe. Gopher is the
third Seminole Tribal member to receive the honor; Betty Mae Jumper
received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1994 and Jim
Shore received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2005.
The degrees honor individuals of outstanding achievement who
have gained national or international recognition or who have made
a significant scholarly, creative, public, business or humane contribution
to the country or to FSU, according to the university.
"Being classified in the same group as Betty Mae Jumper is a
big honor," said Gopher, 69. "I was there when both she and Jim
Shore got theirs."
Gopher was cited for advocating education, preserving Tribal
culture and traditions, and serving as a devoted friend of FSU.
She helped create the university's course, "History of the Seminoles
and Southeastern Tribes, Pre-Contact to Present," which was first
offered in 2006, and she supports the continued use of the Seminole
name and symbols.
"We were so pleased to award an honorary degree to Louise Jones
Gopher," wrote FSU President John Thrasher in an e-mail to The Seminole
Tribune. "Louise has been a champion of education for the members
of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and an ardent friend of the university.
Her story of courage and perseverance is inspiring, and I'm glad
she was able to share it with our graduating students and their
guests during commencement."
A 1970 graduate of Florida Atlantic University, Gopher was the
second Tribal member after Billy Cypress and the first
Seminole woman to earn a bachelor's degree. Although she did not
attend her own college graduation, she addressed the graduating
FSU class of 2014 as commencement speaker after receiving the honorary
"I want students to be introduced to a real Seminole and learn
a little more about the Tribe through me," she said the day before
the ceremony at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. "We are not fiction;
we are real and we're out there. I hope by me talking to them, they
can put a face to the Seminole name."
She told graduates that education plays an important role in
her life because, though her father, Willie Jones, couldn't speak,
read or write English, he made sure his children attended school.
She credits him for instilling the value of education in her.
Gopher spoke about growing up in a chickee near Fort Pierce,
starting school before she knew how to speak English and being amazed
with modern bathroom facilities. Despite the initial obstacles,
she succeeded through college and went to work for the Tribe, where
she helped develop the cultural education program. The program led
to the formation of Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School. She said her
focus has always been to retain Seminole culture and keep children
"When you graduated high school, you knew you were going on
to college," said Gopher's daughter Carla Gopher after the ceremony.
"She never said, 'This is what you're doing;' it's just something
we always knew."
Carla Gopher was the first Seminole to graduate from FSU, class
"It wasn't a question of if you're going to college; it was
where are you going," added daughter Rita McCabe, who received an
associate degree from Indian River State College.
Family members, including Gopher's daughters, grandsons and
cousins, attended the ceremony.
"I was near tears," McCabe said. "I was thinking about how she
stressed education all her life and here she is 60-something years
old and still doing it. She is leading by example."
The year was bookended with other recognitions for Gopher. In
January, she was named to the Florida Women's Hall of Fame. The
induction took place in March. In May, she received the Presidential
Service Medallion from her alma mater.
Carla Gopher said her mother blazed a path for other Seminole
women and children to follow in her footsteps. It will be her legacy,
In 1999, Gopher was included in the Palm Beach Post 100, a list
of influential people honored for changing the way Floridians live.
In 2007, she received the James D. Westcott Distinguished Service
Medal from FSU; she is one of only eight recipients in the school's
believes her mother inspires many.
"She has lived her life around education and is still continuing
to strive to be a better person," she said. "She always said education
is a gold mine that can never be taken away from you."
Gopher concluded her speech by encouraging the graduates to
share their own wisdom, something she has done with the Tribe for
"To those of you who are graduating today, I say treasure your
heritage whatever it may be, learn all you can about it and pass
your knowledge on to your children," she said. "We move most confidently
into the future when we are grounded in the lessons of the past."