When Victoria Baptiste was a junior in high school, a guidance counselor told her that college is not for everyone and that it did not seem like an option for her.
“It was one of the most impactful things anyone had ever said to me at that point in my life. I was told I wasn’t good enough for college. It really took a hit to my spirit,” Baptiste said, reflecting on how far she has come since then.
In May, she will graduate from Polk State College with her Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management with a concentration in Public Administration and she aspires to use her degree, skills, and knowledge to positively impact students in underserved communities.
“I want to make a difference in the lives of students who are written off by the system. I was written off in high school and told ‘we’re not worried about what you do with your life, just graduate and leave,’” she explained. “I want to show students that someone cares about them and their success, and I want to lead by example for them.”
“I want to show students that someone cares about them and their success, and I want to lead by example for them.”
“Am I going to make every student go to college and have a better life?” No,” she added. “But just because you can’t change the world for everyone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother to change the life of one person.”
Baptiste understands firsthand the influential impact one person can have on the life of another.
In her senior year of high school, she moved from her hometown of Long Island to Maine, where another guidance counselor gave her the motivation to start her college journey.
“I told him I wasn’t planning to go to college, and he said that was nonsense,” Baptiste said. “He helped me fill out my application for the community college in Maine. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I remembered my kindergarten teacher and how she inspired me to love school at such a young age. I told my guidance counselor ‘I guess I will study education.’”
Baptiste admits, however, that she was not prepared for college.
As the first in her family of five siblings to attend college, she was not sure how to navigate the world of higher education. After one year, she dropped out.
“I told myself that the guidance counselor who told me college was not for me was right all along,” Baptiste said.
She continued to follow her innate passion for uplifting youth by working with children in a preschool and then as a nanny.
In 2016, she moved to Florida to teach voluntary prekindergarten education at Dayspring Academy in New Port Richey.
“I fell in love with the school and the experience,” she said. “I wished I would have had the opportunity to go to a school like it.”
She was quickly offered the opportunity to get involved with the establishment of The Collaboratory Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Tampa designed for elementary students in need of hands-on, individualized, interactive learning.
“Just because you can’t change the world for everyone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother to change the life of one person.”
It would be a moment in a Denny’s with her hiring principal, Heather Jenkins, that would reinforce the transformational impact others can have on one’s life when they provide support and motivation. They were working from the restaurant one afternoon before they had offices.
“Heather asked me what I wanted to do with my life and my future. I told her I didn’t know,” Baptiste recalled. “She told me that I would make a great leader and administrator. She asked if I would consider going back to school. I couldn’t even imagine it at that time. She really changed my life in that conversation.”
“In my mind, I was already thinking of all the reasons why I couldn’t do it,” she added. “Heather was thinking of all the reasons why I could and helped me to see a trajectory for my life.”
Three years after dropping out of college, Baptiste enrolled at Hillsborough Community College, where she achieved her Associate in Arts degree before transferring into Polk State’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management Program.
At Polk State, Baptiste has enjoyed the real-world approach to the degree program and her ability to take what she is learning in the classroom and apply it in her day-to-day work as a school administrator.
“The coursework in management, leadership, and operations has been so relevant,” she said. “It’s almost like learning on the job because the education has been so aligned to my field and has made me a better professional.”
“My Polk State experience has been really positive,” she added. “The professors are great, the coursework is aligned to my career path, and I really want to leverage everything I have learned by continuing my education.”
She aspires to pursue a master’s degree in educational leadership or restorative justice.
“If you would have asked me three years ago if I would go back to school, I would have laughed and said no because I didn’t think I was a person who could do it,” Baptiste said.
“My Polk State experience has been really positive. The professors are great, the coursework is aligned to my career path, and I really want to leverage everything I have learned by continuing my education.”
“I have learned that anyone can do it and it is only about the limitation you put on yourself that is stopping you,” she added. “My limitation was that it wasn’t the people around me telling me no, but that I was telling myself no.”
She wants to pay it forward by supporting and motivating young people as her principal has done for her. And she is already having that positive impact on many, including those who are closest to her.
Baptiste’s father and her older sister are both pursuing bachelor’s degrees.
“I’m not going to take all the credit, but it feels good to now see my father and sister persisting toward their degrees too,” Baptiste said. “I want to spark the fire in other people because I know how important that can be, and if I can do that for one person, then it is all worth it.”