Growing up, no one encouraged Keiona Haggins to go to school.
“I was only told to not end up pregnant or in jail,” she said.
She lived in a home where emotional and physical abuse were rampant. As a teenager, she worked two jobs to afford food and transportation to school. For two years she didn’t have a bed to sleep in, and at 17, she was kicked out of her family’s home.
“I came home from school one day and it was clear that I wasn’t welcomed there anymore,” Haggins said.
When Haggins was a student at Lakeland High School, Daisy Rivera, an advisor with TRiO Student Support Services, introduced her to the opportunities available at Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School.
“My advisor kept hearing me talk about my dreams of going to college and my concerns that I would never be able to afford it,” Haggins explained.
At Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School, students have the ability to take college courses and earn their Associate in Arts degrees at no cost to them, while simultaneously working on their high school diplomas.
Haggins enrolled in 2011.
“From that point forward, I received so much support and had such a positive experience. Everyone at Polk State Lakeland Collegiate cared.”
“From that point forward, I received so much support and had such a positive experience,” she said. “Everyone at Polk State Lakeland Collegiate cared. They don’t baby students; they challenge them to be the best that they can be, and that’s exactly what I needed.”
Haggins didn’t graduate with an Associate in Arts degree due to challenges she continued to face outside of school, but she received the foundation and motivation she needed to never give up on her goals, she said.
“I tried my best, but sometimes I didn’t get any sleep or didn’t have time to do my homework between jobs,” Haggins explained. “I wish I would have gone to an administrator or a teacher sooner to get the resources I needed, but when you’re in that situation, you feel embarrassed and try to hide what you are going through.”
In 2012, other parts of her life started to fall into place when she married her husband.
“For the first time, I experienced love,” she said. “He has encouraged and supported me through all of my endeavors.”
Haggins received her high school diploma from Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School in 2013. She had her daughter in 2014, purchased a home in 2016, and had her son in 2017. All the while, she was taking online classes while working a full-time job with Marriot. She is also an active volunteer in the community.
“I have a big heart for the community, especially the homeless,” she explained. “It’s important to go back to the place where you once were and to help others going through that situation.”
Seven years since beginning her journey at Polk State, Haggins, 23, will be the first in her family to graduate from college. She plans to enroll at the University of Florida to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Business. Haggins and her husband aspire to open a financial and business consulting company.
“Polk State showed me that I don’t have to be another statistic. We each make our own future. Where we came from doesn’t have to determine who we become. We have the ability, through hard work and determination, to shape our own futures.”
The feeling of achieving her degree ranks high with the accomplishment of becoming a homeowner, she said.
“After going so long without a home and working for years on my degree, it’s amazing to see how far I have come,” she explained. “I am forever grateful to Polk State staff and professors who taught me the life lesson that it doesn’t matter what situation I was born into.”
The experience also helped Haggins mend her relationship with her family, despite the difficult home life she experienced growing up.
“Polk State showed me that I don’t have to be another statistic,” she said. “We each make our own future. Where we came from doesn’t have to determine who we become. We have the ability, through hard work and determination, to shape our own futures.”