Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School valedictorian, salutatorian accelerate their educational journeys

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Polk State College Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School recently celebrated its 2023 graduating class with valedictorian Jacob Baltazar and salutatorian Layla Unzueta.

Both students completed their Polk State Associate in Arts degrees before they even had their high school diplomas in hand.

Baltazar will continue his education at the University of South Florida where he plans to study biology on a pre-med track. Unzueta aspires to become a marine biologist and will study marine science at the University of Florida.

“I knew since elementary school that I wanted to go to Collegiate,” Unzueta said. “It became a dream of mine and now I’ve graduated with my AA which is really exciting.”

Polk State’s charter high schools allow students to simultaneously complete requirements for their high school diplomas while earning college credits. In most cases, students graduate with both their high school diplomas and Associate in Arts degrees at no cost to them.

“It’s such a good opportunity to be able to get two years of college done in high school,” she added. “I wasn’t expecting to become salutatorian, I just worked hard and got good grades. It’s been a great experience with the professors and staff at COL and being on a college campus has helped prepare me for my next step.”

In addition to her studies, Unzueta was involved in the National Honor Society and Key Club.

Baltazar echoed a similar experience.

“I’m kind of in disbelief – I never thought I would be valedictorian although it was something I have strived for since my freshmen year,” he said. “I’m not really sure where that drive came from, but I’ve always wanted to do well in school.”

Previously enrolled in an International Baccalaureate program, Baltazar said he opted to enroll in Collegiate so that he could take classes on a college campus.

“It has provided me with a better understanding of how college works, the credits I need, and how to pursue my degree,” he explained. “It has given me insight and experience I will need at the university level.”

During his time at Polk State, Baltazar was involved in Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) and the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society. He also served as an ambassador for Chain of Lakes Collegiate.

Baltazar said many of his family members work in medicine and have inspired him to become a physician.

“My goal is to become a leader within a healthcare setting where I can work toward a good cause and help others,” he said. “My advice for students is to work hard and be nice to everybody, and good things will come.”