New to area, valedictorian and salutatorian find home at Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Daniela Peraza Vasquez and Alexandria Levesque were each brand new to the area when they enrolled at Polk State College Chain of Lakes Collegiate (COL) High School. The two will leave at the top of the 2024 graduation class.

Peraza Vasquez finishes as the valedictorian for the 164-member class with a grade-point average of 4.8. Levesque’s superb 4.724 GPA earned her the distinction of salutatorian. Both will leave with their Associate in Arts (AA) degrees.

“It was very exciting to be valedictorian,” Peraza Vasquez said. “When I found out, I was jumping for joy. My parents were really proud. It’s an honor and I feel blessed.”

Born in Venezuela, Peraza Vasquez, 17, spent ninth grade in Tennessee before moving to Florida and enrolling at West Boca Community High School for 10th grade. During her time in high school, she participated in track and field, flag football, and basketball. At Polk State, Peraza Vasquez was part of the Art Club and National Honor Society for Chain of Lakes.

“The experience was great,” Peraza Vasquez said. “One of the things I loved about COL was getting to take challenging classes in the areas I love. You really get to take charge of your own education.”

Levesque, 17, spent her first two years in Colorado at a high school that also allowed students to work toward an AA. She enrolled at COL because it provided the opportunity to continue pursuing a college degree in high school and to be around students with similar goals.

“(COL) consists of a lot of students working to get college credits in high school,” she said. “That was very important to me.”

Polk State’s collegiate high schools allow students to earn college credits at no cost to them. Most graduate with both their diploma and AA. The average member of the 2024 class earned 56 college credits.

“I would recommend focusing a lot of on your studies,” Levesque said. “This will help you do well and achieve your goals.”

By summer’s end, 115 COL graduates or more than 70% are expected to receive their AA. Nearly half graduated high school with a GPA of 4.0 or greater.

“I’ve had a lot of amazing teachers,” Peraza Vasquez said. “Dr. (Robert Earl Brown) was one of my favorite teachers. I learned a lot of life lessons.”

“Mr. (Alric) Fischle was the teacher I communicated with the most,” she noted. “He was the (National Honor Society) advisor and I got to shadow him for one of my education classes. I learned a lot from him.”

Like Peraza Vasquez, Levesque was also involved in her fair share of extracurricular activities. She was a member of COL’s National Honor Society and Art Club, and tutored students at McLaughlin Middle School in Lake Wales.

“It’s very important to be involved in student life,” Peraza Vasquez said. “The collegiate high schools have a lot of clubs, and you also get to take part in the college clubs. There’s a real sense of community at COL.”

Both plan on staying in the state to continue their education. Peraza Vasquez will attend the University of Florida to major in architecture with the hope of opening her own firm one day.

Levesque’s next stop will be the University of South Florida to major in exceptional student education. Once she completes her bachelor’s degree, Levesque will decide on how or whether to further her education. She’s open to teaching all grades but has an interest in exceptional student education.

“I want to teach exceptional students in either elementary or middle school,” she said. “I’ve had some experience with exceptional students in the past and this is a great way to help people.”

Through Peraza Vasquez’s educational journey, her parents, Efrem Peraza and Laura Vasquez, have served as an inspiration.

“I’ve never met two more hard-working people,” Peraza Vasquez explained. “They started at the bottom and just built themselves up.”

Members of the 2024 class combined for more than 31,000 community service hours and earned about $2.2 million in scholarships. In addition to public and private universities across the state, COL graduates have also been accepted to the University of Connecticut, Clemson University, and Hawaii Pacific University.

For the Fall 2024 Semester, Chain of Lakes will accept 10th grade students for the first time. Peraza Vasquez provided advice for those considering the collegiate high school route.

“It’s a new challenge academically,” the valedictorian noted. “Be organized and pace yourself.”