OKEECHOBEE — A seventh generation Okeechobee teen recently took second place in a Shakespeare recitation contest held at the Biltmore Hotel in West Palm Beach.
Okeechobee is well known in the agriculture and the rodeo worlds, but Shakespeare is not a name typically associated with the rural county.
Grace Thomas is technically a homeschooled junior, but she attends college classes full time and is a member of Okeechobee High School’s drama club. A friend of Grace’s talked her into auditioning for a show when she was in 10th grade. She was shocked to land one of the lead roles and has been hooked on drama ever since. “A friend of mine practically dragged me to the first meeting. She said, ‘Just do it with me.’ I couldn’t believe it. I auditioned and got cast in Radium Girls!” Since then, Grace has been cast in several other shows as well.
After long-time drama teacher Debbie Raulerson moved away, Scarlett Reister stepped in. Reister just had a baby though and is out on maternity leave so the class and club are being covered by a math teacher. “She was great. We really miss her,” Grace said about Reister.
While Reister was there, she insisted every member of each of her classes enter the English- Speakers Union’s Shakespeare Recitation contest. This was not something the students had done in the past, but Reister went to school in Louisiana and her school took part in the competition. Grace was not opposed to this idea at all as she was already familiar with Shakespeare, having taken Classical Conversations classes during her first two years of high school. “We read 'Taming of the Shrew,' and that’s where I got my monologue for the contest from.”
The first step in the competition was a school-wide contest. Because she is homeschooled and not a member of the class, Grace was not required by Reister to take part, but she asked for permission to do it anyway and won.
The second step of the competition was held at the Biltmore Hotel. Five area finalists competed to go to the 40th National Competition at Lincoln Center in New York. During this competition, Grace recited both a monologue and a sonnet, coming in second out of the five finalists. “I beat a kid who was from The Academy for the Performing Arts, so I thought that was pretty cool.” If she has the opportunity, Grace intends to try again next year and hopefully advance to the national level. “I love drama. It’s my favorite thing.”
Grace is a part of the Bass family on one side and the Thomas family on the other. Each family has been in Okeechobee for seven generations. Her father is a dean at the high school and her mother is a flight attendant.
Though she has a newfound love for drama, Grace does not intend to rush off to Hollywood to become a star. Instead, her dream is to become a pilot and fly for a commercial airline, although, she said she wouldn’t be mad if a Hollywood producer discovered her somewhere along the way. Grace not only attends college full time and belongs to the drama club, but she is also on the tennis team and the debate team and will soon be working part time for her older brother.