Florentina Denis and Marquis McGary have a lot of similarities. They are paraprofessionals for Polk County Public Schools, interested in health sciences, and graduating cum laude with Polk State College’s fall 2020 class.
With each other’s support and a friendly competition to achieve the higher grade-point average, this husband and wife duo will receive their Polk State Associate in Arts degrees and continue their education at the University of South Florida.
“There were times when we didn’t think we could get here,” Denis said. “To see where we now – married, having our child, and achieving our degrees – is pretty amazing.”
“There were times when we didn’t think we could get here. To see where we now – married, having our child, and achieving our degrees – is pretty amazing.”
They motivate each other and have served as their biggest supporters along their Polk State journeys.
Denis was born in Haiti and McGary is a Polk County native. They met at Auburndale High School, where they had a class together junior year but never spoke. They reconnected as seniors and now, nearly nine years later, Denis and McGary are the proud parents of their 1-year-old daughter.
They were both introduced to Polk State at young ages. Denis’s mother graduated from what was then Polk Community College and McGary signed up for classes at Polk State out of high school. They decided to enroll at the College together in 2017.
“As we got older, we wanted to further our education and Polk State was the best option, being close to home and affordable,” Denis explained.
She aspires to achieve a doctorate degree and become a medical examiner. Marquis is interested in science and working with children.
They agreed that the road to their associate degrees was challenging, but they were able to lean on each other when times – and classes – got tough.
“It is special to be able to say that we helped each other through,” McGary said. “We made it into a challenge of who would get the higher grade. It was fun and gave us some extra motivation.”
“It was challenging, especially when I had ‘pregnancy brain,’” Denis added. “It was helpful to be taking some of the same courses so that we could study together.”
Late nights studying paid off for Denis and McGary, who are both graduating cum laude with GPAs between 3.5 and 3.74. They are also members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
They are thankful to their family for supporting them when they had to attend night classes while balancing full-time jobs and raising their newborn daughter. They both shared words of advice for Polk State’s students.
“There are a lot of resources at Polk State. These resources have played a huge part in us being successful. Utilize the different outlets available at the College to your benefit, including your peers and professors. They want you to be successful and are there to help when you need it.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” McGary said. “There are a lot of resources at Polk State – from the library to the TLCC (Teaching Learning Computing Center). These resources have played a huge part in us being successful. Utilize the different outlets available at the College to your benefit, including your peers and professors. They want you to be successful and are there to help when you need it.”
Denis echoed this sentiment.
“Personally, I had an issue where I wasn’t submitting assignments for three to four weeks and my professors gave me a second chance,” she shared. “My advice is don’t give up just because you fall behind. I may have fallen behind but I reached out to my professors, who were very understanding, and used my resources to get back on track.”
While there have been challenges, the “semesters have flown by – they fly by before you know it,” McGary said.
“Stay focused and stay motivated,” Denis added. “You can do accomplish anything if you are motivated to do it.”