DODEA grad adopted from mud hut in rural Guyana excelled at Okinawa high school
Stars and Stripes June 2, 2023
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Cathy Rice graduated from a Defense Department high school on Okinawa on Friday, but never lost sight of her roots among Indigenous people in rural Guyana.
Cathy — the adopted daughter of Tracy Rice, who teaches English as a second language at Kadena Elementary School — walked away with her diploma from Kadena High, an associate of arts degree from Middle Georgia State University and a near-perfect 3.9 GPA. She plans to attend the university in the fall and pursue a degree in graphic design, she told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.
“My biological mother knew that I wouldn't be able to succeed in a way that I needed to,” Cathy Rice said. “I was brought into a family that supported me and loved me, and they helped me with my dreams.”
Cathy was born in May 2005 in Moco moco, a village in Guyana’s southwestern foothills between Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil; her birth parents are members of the Macushi tribe. In January 2005, a family friend of Tracy met Cathy's pregnant birth mother, Seleen, during a trip to the region.
Tracy had already adopted a son, Eric, and had expressed interest in adopting a second child, she said Thursday at Kadena. Seleen wanted her daughter to have opportunities in life that she was unable to provide, Tracy said.
The approximately 400 Macushi fish, hunt and farm for sustenance, Tracy said. They sleep in hand-sewn hammocks in huts with roofs of thatched palm leaves. Their homes lack electricity, running water or heat.
Tracy and Cathy arrived in Japan in summer 2005 and two years later moved to Okinawa, Tracy said.
Cathy was an infant in September 2005 when Tracy moved her from Guyana to Misawa Air Base, Japan, where Tracy taught in a Department of Defense Education Activity school.
Cathy has kept in touch with her biological family and returned to her village in 2008, 2012 and 2016, Tracy said. Cathy handed out donated school supplies to the children there.
The Rice family also helped install a concrete pad on the floor of a mud hut where the children eat, ran pipes for handwashing and taught the locals first aid.
Over the years, Cathy's love of drawing outlasted her dreams of being an Olympic swimmer, a doctor or an archaeologist, she said. She plans to further serve her tribe by committing their folklore to the movies, maybe at a big studio like Pixar or DreamWorks, one day. Cathy said her grandmother is the village storyteller.
Cathy, through hard work and a shimmering attitude, helped make Kadena High a "better place," principal Craig Maxey said by phone Thursday.
She received eight scholarships and four awards this year, including the Consul General Award from the U.S. Consulate General Naha for volunteering in Japanese schools, Tracy said. She has visited far-flung countries like India, Cambodia and Israel.
“I have chosen a lot of different paths throughout my life,” Cathy said. “My family has supported me through all of them.”