‘I want to be an overachiever’: Michelle Puerta among 35 dual enrollment graduates
When Michelle Puerta dual enrolled at Palm Beach State College in June 2020, the summer after her high school sophomore year, the pandemic crushed her plans to take classes on campus but not her goal to earn an Associate in Arts degree.
“It was not easy, but I still pushed myself,” said Puerta, who will graduate from PBSC and Wellington High School this month. “I would have liked to go in person, but at that time the pandemic was bad. It was all online. I kept on taking courses online because I do have a heavy schedule. I just could not go in person.”
Puerta is among PBSC’s over 2,000 spring graduates and the first class since fall 2019 to have traditional commencement ceremonies. She is also one of 35 dual enrollment students earning A.A. degrees while in high school and is looking forward to celebrating at commencement May 12 at the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center.
Like other graduates, the aspiring veterinarian juggled numerous commitments and a myriad of personal challenges during the pandemic to achieve her goal. Puerta’s dad got COVID-19 and spent two weeks in the hospital just before her senior year at Wellington High School started, and her dog died. It took two months for her dad to fully recover. “It was very difficult to go through that and help him recover.”
Puerta’s love for animals and the loss of her pet sparked her interest in veterinary medicine, and because of the experience, she hopes to one day provide low-cost veterinarian services to make access easier. “As I was grieving, I realized I did not want other families to grieve the way I was.”
Despite those challenges, she juggled her studies, including more rigorous AICE and Advanced Placement courses at her high school, with serving as the captain of both her high school varsity women’s basketball team and her team with the American Youth Soccer Organization Region 345 at Okeeheelee Park. In addition, she was actively involved or held leadership roles in the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, American Sign Language Honor Society, Latinos in Action, the Interact Club and the Vet Club, as well as completed numerous community service hours.
She applied to five universities—the University of Florida, Florida Atlantic University, Florida State University, the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida—and got accepted to all of them. She will attend UF this year for her bachelor’s degree because she also hopes to pursue her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the flagship university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the only one in the state.
“Getting an education is one of the main things that motivates me to push my family forward,” said Puerta, whose parents and older half-brother are from Colombia. “They did come to the U.S. to help me get a better future, so I do want to accomplish their dream,’’ she said.
How did she do it? “I think it’s just the motivation that I have inside of me because, at the end of the day, if I wanted, I could have just quit if I was overwhelmed. I want to be an overachiever. I want to push forward.”