Experience at Polk State College Gateway to College Collegiate High School leads top two graduates to remain at College

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

For the top two graduates in Polk State College Gateway to College Collegiate High School’s 2024 class, their experience over the last two years has motivated them to continue their academic careers at Polk State College.

Valedictorian Cam’ryen Mitchell Marr and salutatorian Edin Hieronymus were separated by less than a one hundredth of a point. Mitchell Marr, 18, graduated with a 4.571 grade-point average. Hieronymus, 17, boasted a 4.563 GPA.

“When I learned that I was valedictorian, I started crying,” Mitchell Marr said. “I was so shocked, but so happy at the same time.”

After beginning her high school career at Lake Gibson High School, Mitchell Marr spent the final two years at Gateway, earning her Associate in Arts (AA) degree. Over the last two years, she has served as a member of National Honor Society, Yearbook Club, and the Explorers program through the Lakeland Police Department.

“I was able to really chase my dreams and challenge myself academically,” she reflected. “This was a full-on college experience. At Gateway, if you had any questions, the guidance staff was always there.”

At Polk State’s three collegiate high schools, students can earn high school and college credits simultaneously at no cost to them. For 2024, nearly half of Gateway’s 136-member class received an AA. The class earned about $1.3 million in scholarships; it did nearly 15,000 hours of community service.

“I was very happy I got to experience it,” Hieronymus explained. “I was able to get more into the college setting. It helped me learn what I wanted to do with my life. The faculty and staff were so helpful.”

Hieronymus spent one year each at Kathleen High School and Florida Virtual School before attending Gateway, where she also earned her AA. During her time at Gateway, Hieronymus was a member of National Honor Society and Polk State’s Phi Theta Kappa Xi Pi Chapter. She also earned more than 250 service hours volunteering in the nursery at Lakes Church, where she is a member.

“To be able to be salutatorian was just an incredible honor,” Hieronymus added. “I was happy to represent my class in that way.”

Mitchell Marr will continue her education at Polk State but is undecided on whether to enter the Business or Network Systems Engineering Technology program. For her success, Mitchell Marr credits her mother Gloria Mitchell, her friends, the Gateway staff, and her Explorers advisors at the Police Department.

“Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams,” she advised. “Always work hard and don’t be ashamed to ask for help.”

Hieronymus plans on entering the Nursing Program at Polk State. She discovered her passion for the Health Sciences during her time at Gateway.

“I took anatomy and physiology and other science classes and found that I loved it,” she recalled. “It really pushed me in the medical direction.”

She credited Jeffrey Brown, Social Studies Teacher, Assistant Principal Tania Chandler, and Professor Anthony Cornett, also the advisor for Xi Pi, for helping her along her journey.

“They gave me incredible guidance,” Hieronymus explained. “I was always in Ms. Chandler’s office with questions about classes – the same as Dr. Brown.

“With Professor Cornett, whenever I was questioning my career path, he was there with advice,” she added. “He really helped me weigh my options. PTK made me want to stay at Polk State to continue my education.”

Mitchell Marr plans on pursuing a career in law enforcement. Her interest in the profession was piqued when she was in middle school and attended a crime scene investigation camp. The process of gathering and piecing together evidence to solve crimes and help people is what intrigues Mitchell Marr about the profession.

Through her academic journey, Mitchell Marr said there were hardships that made her want to give up, including losing her father at a young age and suffering from whiplash during a car crash while in high school. She’s proud of the way she’s persevered.

“Emotions and circumstances sometimes stop you from chasing your dreams,” the valedictorian advised. “Don’t let them.”

While Gateway’s top two graduates for 2024 will remain at Polk State, other members of the class will continue their education at universities across the state and Southeast, including at Florida State University, University of Florida, Florida A&M University, University of Central Florida, North Carolina A&T University, Louisiana State University, and South Carolina State University. Forty-nine – or 36% – of Gateway’s 2024 class graduated with a GPA of 4.0 or higher.

“Gateway has been a huge part of my life for the last two years,” Hieronymus concluded. “Getting to experience college and high school at the same time has been amazing.”