Mareli Perez and Molly Mines aspire to have “doctor” in front of their names one day, and they are both on the right track as they graduate Wednesday as valedictorian and salutatorian of Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate High School’s 2019 class.
Perez, who is valedictorian with a 4.5 grade-point average (GPA), and Mines, salutatorian with a 4.475 GPA, received their Polk State Associate in Arts degrees and will continue their education at State University System institutions.
“At Gateway, it’s not just about academics – we have learned life lessons and skills that will continue to guide us,” Perez said.
She will pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Central Florida and aspires to become a veterinarian doctor – a career goal that has changed a few times but was ultimately decided on thanks to the support and guidance of Gateway faculty and staff.
Perez participated in dual enrollment at Bartow High School before seeking a collegiate program that would accelerate her ability to achieve an AA degree.
“Having two years of college that my family did not have to pay for is a huge resource,” said Perez, who is the first of her siblings to graduate from college. “I am grateful for the foundation and the support I received here.”
Perez and Mines agreed that Gateway staff and faculty go the extra mile to ensure students are positioned for success, from assisting with college applications to having one-on-one conversations with students who are unsure about what education or career path they want to take like Perez, who wavered between nursing and veterinarian sciences.
“The staff here are quick to answer our questions and check up on us, while continuing to give us the freedom we have in our college courses,” Mines explained.
She will study chemistry at the University of Florida with a Bright Futures Florida Medallion Scholarship and plans to enroll in UF’s College of Dentistry.
Mines and Perez gave credit to their families for motivating them to achieve academically but added that it takes self-determination to ensure success.
“It takes time management,” said Mines, who juggled high school and college courses with volleyball, tennis, National Honor Society, and community service, completing 356 volunteer hours.
Perez also participated in National Honor Society, played soccer, and completed more than 100 community service hours.
They both agreed that keeping a daily planner is critical and the support they received at Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate made achieving their goals possible.
“Everyone here at Gateway is incredible,” Mines said. “They have given us the confidence we need as we move on to the university level.”